Bessie Spector
Bessie Spector

The Bessie Spector Oldest Jewish Americans Celebration is back in person.

It’s been a few years since the community was able to celebrate its oldest members in person, but this year, the dedicated crew who plan the Bessie Spector Oldest Jewish Americans Celebration are looking forward to gathering in real life. Like the honorees, co-chairs Jain Lauter, Joyce Berlin Weingarten and Julie Zussman, as well as sponsor Joan Chernoff Epstein, all have a lot of history.

Joyce Berlin Weingarten and her father, Louis Berlin
Joyce Berlin Weingarten and her father, Louis Berlin

Epstein’s family celebrated her grandmother Bessie Spector at the very first Oldest Jewish American’s Brunch, and they kept going until Spector passed away at age 102.

“She was an incredible treasure. She was independent. She loved living in Jewish Federation Apartments. All the programming, all the people she met, just made her blossom,” said Epstein. So, Joan and Bob Epstein decided to ensure the program in her grandmother’s memory.

“I will always have a big spot in my heart for what JSL did for my grandmother. It gave her this uplifting life,” Epstein said. “I would call her up and say, ‘Bess, do you want to go to lunch?’ And she would say, ‘I’m sorry, I have a concert. I can’t leave.’”

Weingarten’s grandmother Fannie Whiteman was also one of the first attendees, and Weingarten attended with her grandmother until her passing at age 102, at which time, she started going with her husband’s grandmother Belle Rosender, and then with her father, Louis Berlin.

“I remember Joyce loved to bring her dad,” said Epstein. “He was such a handsome, healthy fellow. He strolled in there looking so dapper. Joyce has this attachment because her father was coming to the programs. It says a lot about what it means to people.”

Carol Weintraub Fogel recruited Weingarten to join the committee, and she’s been involved ever since.

“I have a long history with the event, with attending and supporting it, and I just think that it is a really beautiful way to celebrate our Jewish seniors in our community,” Weingarten said. “It gives them an activity to attend that’s all about them. And it gives us a chance to honor them for being so special.”

Julie and Rick Zussman, son Adam Zussman with his daughter Charlotte and the late Milt Zussman
Julie and Rick Zussman, son Adam Zussman with his daughter Charlotte and the late Milt Zussman

Jain Lauter’s father was honored when he turned 100.

“I was hooked,” said Lauter, who has been on the committee ever since. “My favorite part of the event was watching my father and the other honorees interact with old friends, with lifelong friends they hadn’t seen in a long time and seeing my childhood friends. It was my father seeing Milt Zussman and me seeing Julie and Rick and Marcy. We would see four generations together, and that’s just cool,” Lauter said.

Zussman agrees. “My favorite memory is being with my father-in-law, his child, his grandchild, and his great-grandchild. It was l’dor v’dor, just seeing the joy in Milt’s face.”

The Bessie Spector Oldest Jewish American Celebration will be held this year on Friday, May 5, at Adat Shalom Synagogue. The program will feature brunch, a ceremony celebrating the honorees and entertainment on the event’s theme, “The Golden Age of Television.”

“I’m just thrilled that we are going to be back in person. That has been a very hard pill to swallow the last years,” Zussman said.

The program is planned and co-sponsored by Jewish Senior Life, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Gesher Human Services.

Honorees must turn 95 by Dec. 31, 2023. To register an honoree or for more information, visit or call Beth Robinson at (248) 592-5062.

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