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Community

Centenarian Rose Norwich zooms in on a life of achievement

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They say that age is just a number, but when you turn 100 during a pandemic, there’s every reason to celebrate.

Riviera resident Rose Norwich marked her centennial birthday on 2 January, and while COVID-19 prevented any in-person celebration, the occasion was a special one indeed.

“People have been so kind,” Norwich told the SA Jewish Report. “I didn’t realise I was a such a novelty. Turning a hundred kind of creeps up on you.”

Although unable to see her four children, eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and other relatives, Norwich celebrated her birthday with friends and family in Zoom gatherings.

“My family all live in different places around the world, and we had three separate Zoom sessions: one for my children and grandchildren, another with my siblings, and the others with friends around the world. It was such fun and really wonderful.

“It was almost better, in a way, to have this. Most of them couldn’t have come here, regardless of COVID-19. If anything, this business has taught us a lesson that we need to stay together as families rather than be separated. At times of crisis, we need one another.”

Born in 1921 in Johannesburg, Norwich has notched up endless accomplishments. The second of five children, she completed a degree in architecture at 22, and went on to devote much of her life to Jewish communal organisations.

“I did my degree towards the end of the war, met my husband, and started a family,” she says. “My parents had both been integrally involved in community organisations, so it wasn’t new to me.

“I started at ORT Jet in the sixties. The organisation was going through a bad patch, and Richard Goldstone, Basil Wunsch, and I worked to resurrect it and see it grow. We changed what it did, made it interdenominational, and set up a system that would help all kinds of people achieve all kinds of different things.”

Norwich was subsequently invited to join the Union of Jewish Women, becoming the organisation’s president and joining the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as a result.

“They asked me if I would do an exhibition of South African Jewry for the Beit Hatfutsot Museum in Israel. It was a major project that I did over two years, collecting plenty of photos for use in the exhibition. They say that 60 000 people saw it in Israel, and I visited it with my late husband, Isadore.”

Another major project to which Norwich devoted herself was a master’s dissertation, which she took up at the age of 66, 44 years after completing her first degree.

“I met somebody overseas who showed me pictures of destroyed shuls,” she says. “I knew we had shuls in South Africa which had fallen apart owing to sheer neglect, so I did my dissertation on 43 of the early synagogues of Johannesburg and the Reef.

“It took me four years, trawling through archives and discovering places that had been forgotten. It was remarkable. There are copies of my dissertation at Hebrew University, Beit Hatfutsot, and I gave one to each of my children. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.”

The last surviving member of her immediate family, Norwich spends much of her time alone these days, but has devoted herself to penning her life story.

“My husband passed away 25 years ago,” she says. “I’ve been lonely, but I can’t sit around and do nothing. I may be a little more tired than I used to, but I can still see and hear. I need to keep busy.

“I’ve learned first-hand that when push comes to shove, you need other people in your life. You can’t do it alone. You have to put your foot in the water to get going, be open to all sorts of things, and go out there to see what’s what.”

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1 Comment

  1. Adele Gluckman

    Jan 24, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    I have known Mrs Norwich since I befriended her youngest daughter Lorraine in high school and spent many memorable times with the Norwichs both in Johannesburg and their holiday home in Kalk Bay. In the latter years with Lorraine and her son Mulegeta visiting from Boston every January, I attended all her last birthday parties with them and was planning her 100th party a year in advance! No one guessed that the word ‘planning’ would no longer be a part of our lexicon and Lorraine and family organised zoom parties for this auspicious 100th birthday instead!! I’m hoping to attend Mrs Norwich’s 101st birthday party if the virus allows!!

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