Recently I attended a birthday party.
Not unusual, you think, but this was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Zara Tarshis at The Summit at First Hill retirement home in Seattle. She is their first resident to reach this milestone.
The party was attended by some of her local family: grandson Gary Stratiner and his wife, Cindy, and granddaughter Jan Lewis and her husband Steve, and good friend Kathy Fishman.
'We're thrilled,' said Jan before the party. 'She's amazing, she's all there, very healthy.' But there's a bittersweet note, too. 'I wish my mother [Joyce Stratiner] had lived to see this.'
'We're more excited than she is,' says Cindy, who explained that Zara had to be convinced to accept the honor.
Zara was born in Pittsburgh where her parents, ironically, were on their way back to Odessa after a failed attempt at emigration to the States. The Russian Revolution destroyed the family business, forcing their return to North America. They lived for a time in Vancouver, B.C., moving to Seattle when Zara was 16.
'She belonged to everything,' says Jan, and particularly enjoyed playing cards and Mah Jongg with her friends. Both Jan and Cindy told me how family-oriented she was, and renowned for her cooking.
'We still use her recipes for holidays,' Cindy says.
'Every Friday and Sunday we'd be at their house. The family would be there and my children grew up on that,' Jan remembers. Zara has six great-grandsons and one great-great-granddaughter, aged 21 months.
Jeff Cohen, CEO of the Kline Galland Center, which operates the senior residence, calls the celebration 'a wonderful milestone for residents, the facility and for Zara herself.
'People are staying in their homes longer,' he observes, 'and staying at The Summit longer. They go to skilled nursing later,' thanks to assisted living and home care services.
'The generation Kline Galland is serving now is significantly older than prior generations,' adds Cohen.
Indeed, The Summit will celebrate the birthday of their second centenarian, Belle Kosokoff in December. Belle's family came to the Seattle area from Canada when she was about 12. For a while her father was a cattle broker and dairy farmer on the land where Chateau St. Michelle winery now stands.
Belle, who attended Green Lake Elementary and Lincoln High School in Seattle, still lives on her own. Her son, Marvin Kaye and daughter, Barbara Edelstein live in the area, and she enjoys visits from her five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Like Mrs. Tarshis, Belle is matter-of-fact about turning 100.
'I told my great-granddaughter, 'it's just a number,'' laughs Belle. 'And she said, 'but it's a high number!''
You don't have to be Jewish to love Jewish history, and this is borne out by Steve Wright, the archivist for the Washington State Jewish Historical Society.
Steve, who has worked for the society for five years, grew up in Cincinnati, 'the cradle of Reform Judaism,' he notes, and worked for the Cincinnati Historical Society for 10 years.
'I was very familiar with the [Jewish] community there,' he recalls, 'and their cultural and economic impact.
'All my friends growing up, and even in the army,' he adds, 'were Jewish.' (Steve served as a captain and helicopter pilot in the 9th Infantry Division from 1980 to 1985.)
So when he saw the ad for the WSJHS position, he applied.
'Fortunately, I was hired,' he says.
Although this job is only five hours a week, Lisa Kranseler, WSJHS' new executive director, says 'he is really quite amazing and extremely generous to the society, and truly believes in the mission.'
'I love learning,' Steve asserts. 'I love history and I've learned a lot about the Jewish community in the Northwest.'
One topic he's found particularly interesting is our local Sephardic community.
'This was something new to me,' he states. 'You never learn about this growing up in [other] states.'
At the archives, housed at the University of Washington's Allen Library, the society preserves, acquires, organizes and makes available to the public historic records of our state's families and organizations. The collection consists mostly of documents, but there is also an oral interview program that Steve archives as well. You can find out more about what's in the collection online at www.wsjhs.org/archives.htm.
Steve will be honored by the society at the archives during a program called 'Take a Walk Through Time' on Nov. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. The public is invited, and visitors will be able to purchase the newly updated WSJHS timeline and test their knowledge of local history.
Outside of his handful of hours at the historical society, Wright is the Pacific Northwest representative for the Winthrop Group, which specializes in collecting, interpreting and analyzing historical data for companies and institutions.
For more information on the historical society, visit the Web site or call 206-774-2277.