What is the key to living a long life? Is it exercise? Is it diet? Is it going on a quest to find the fountain of youth? If you ask Charlotte Kamenir, who just turned 99, she will tell you the secret to living a long life is “Don’t die young.” Obviously, this is a facetious answer; her real advice is, “to receive love and give love.” If you know anything about Charlotte, you know that she gives so much love that she is basically the Jewish Mother Teresa. So, in return, we’d like her to receive some well-deserved love.
Charlotte was born in Chicago to a wonderful family who showered her with kindness. Sadly, her sister was diagnosed with Polio. This took most of her family’s attention, leaving Charlotte and her brother on the sidelines. Does she look at her family’s pulled focus as a bad thing? Absolutely not. Charlotte, always looking at the bright side, revels in the freedom she was given. With this newfound freedom, she met Eddy, the man who would become her husband.
Eddy and Charlotte got married and immediately started to build their family. She got pregnant with three girls, but, tragically, one of them died soon after birth. During the Korean War, Eddy was stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois. This left Charlotte raising their two daughters by herself. Eventually, it became too much as she moved down to the base to reunite her family. While living in Rantoul, they had Janice, our former Board Chair. On the base, they heard of this wonderful, paradise-like state called California. They knew that when his time in the service was over, they had to move there. So, that’s exactly what they did. “I thought I came to the Garden of Eden,” she said with an ear-to-ear grin.
Once in Eden, they bought a plot of land in Cheviot Hills for $3,000. While watching workers who were building the highways in Los Angeles, (that’s right, this is before there were highways in Los Angeles) Eddy got the idea to build their new house himself. So, that’s exactly what he did. Before long, they had a beautiful home and two more children to fill it. With the birth of their two boys, they realized that they needed a bigger house. They bought a plot of land in the Palisades and Eddy got to work building his family a new, larger home.
After studying the Torah, Eddy started to see the similarities between it and American law. In no time, like any good Jewish boy would, he went to law school. While he was in law school, Charlotte decided she wanted to go back to school as well. She went to USC, got her master’s in Gerontology, and used it to volunteer for the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center for 35 years. On top of taking care of the kids, cooking, cleaning, being a Girl Scout leader, Boy Scout leader, and class parent, she was working an intense, highly demanding job. Basically, what I am saying is that she’s superhuman.
Years later, her son Michael, now the long-time director of Freedom Song, began struggling with a crippling drug addiction. Charlotte simply did not know what to do. She looks back on that time as being one the hardest in her life—hands tied, with nothing left to do except worry. That is when Beit T’Shuvah entered the picture and changed their lives forever. Charlotte was not only immensely grateful to Beit T’Shuvah for saving her son, and later her grandson, but also fell in love with it and everything it had to offer.
Since then, Charlotte has become one of the pillars of our community and a matriarch for this house of lost souls. In simpler terms, she adopted every single one of us and has always treated us like family. She knew we needed support and jumped at the opportunity to help. “I donate to Beit T’Shuvah because it is a very special place. It should always be strong and be able to do the work that it is doing because it is such good work.” Every single week, if she can’t make it in person, she logs onto the Shabbat livestream.“When I watch the livestream, I feel so good that I had any part in helping the residents.” With love in her eyes, she talks about how much joy she is filled with seeing the residents change and become who they were always meant to be.
Charlotte Kamenir is now 99 years old. Let me say that again, so you can truly hear it: 99 YEARS OLD! So, how did she do it? What gave her the strength to live this long and, even more so, to do it with a smile on her face every day? Simply put: love. The love she has for her family, the love she has for the life she’s led, and the love she has for Beit T’Shuvah. To this day, she still lives a wildly fulfilling life. She goes to the theater, she sees friends, and, in her words, “I’m the kind of person where, if you invite me, I’m going.” Her level of joy and gratitude is something that any one of us could only dream of. You could drown in her love. That love has kept her happy, healthy, and, without a doubt, wise. With all of this, it is no wonder why she is, and will always be, one of the most beloved members of our community. So, in the wise words of a woman who, even if you don’t know her, cares deeply about you, “My advice for living to 99 is the same thing we say every week…HOLD ON!” With your love, Charlotte, that’ll be no problem.