Sarah Berlin Celebrates 109th Birthday

Sarah Berlin Celebrates 109th Birthday

Lifelong Atlanta resident has led an active life that she credits with for her many years.

Sarah Berlin has enjoyed exceptional health during her long lifetime.
Sarah Berlin has enjoyed exceptional health during her long lifetime.

When Sarah Berlin was born in Atlanta in 1914, the initial shots that would be fired in World War I were still five months away. The Ford Motor Company was just starting construction of its new assembly plant on Ponce de Leon Road to manufacture Model Ts in Atlanta. And Leo Frank was languishing in the Milledgeville State Prison after a sensational trial that convicted him of murdering a young factory worker the year before.

One hundred and nine years later, on March 27 of this year, Sarah Berlin celebrated her birthday at The Renaissance on Peachtree senior living apartments.

She donned a cardboard crown as she blew out the sparklers that lit up her birthday cake. Then, without a second thought, the lady they call “Queen B,” dug into a generous slice of the cake, while she responded with smiles and enthusiasm to the many well-wishers.

Among them was Sylvia Friedman, who’s known Berlin for more than 60 years. In recent years, she’s come over from the Jewish Tower on Howell Mill Road to visit every week. She is impressed with how well Berlin has aged.

Sarah Berlin gets a large birthday cake on her 109th birthday from Keith Isydore, executive director of Renaissance on Peachtree.

“I’m amazed. I’m 90 and I cannot get over how vibrant she is,” Friedman said.

But, then, Friedman remembers how active her friend has always been. In earlier days, she was often walking, at a brisk pace, around a two-mile circuit of Piedmont Park near the neighborhood where they both lived. Berlin continued the long walks into her mid-70s. Today, Berlin says it is part of what she credits for her long life.

“She says it’s because of her active lifestyle as a younger woman,” Friedman maintains, “keeping her body fit. She also went to synagogue every Saturday. She was a lifelong member of AA.”

Berlin grew up in the old Ahavath Achim synagogue building, where her father, Charles Lefkoff, was a prominent early member. It was located on Gilmer Street, south of downtown Atlanta. Old-timers remember it as a building topped by two large onion-shaped domes and a big stained-glass window on the front. It moved to its present building in the Peachtree Battle neighborhood in 1929, when Berlin was 15.

All of her brothers and sisters, except one who died in an auto accident, lived into their 90s.

Her son, Leonard, who is 72, and lives in New Jersey, organized the celebration, He remembers his mother as a very friendly and social person. She was an avid canasta player and devoted mahjong fan who never missed her three times a week games.

“My brother and I like to say the maid raised us because she was always playing cards. My father owned a well-known shoe store in Five Points, downtown, where Martin Luther King was a frequent customer. He worked 12 hours a day.”

But Berlin herself credits her long life to something even more fundamental than exercise or an ability to make and keep friends. Without much elaboration, she credits the Biblical commandment to honor your father and mother, if you want to make it well past 100.

“Always be nice to your parents and grandparents,” she advises.

Credit for the contribution your parents have made to your life got a boost earlier this month as a study by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center found evidence that a highly active and healthy immune system prolongs life at the cellular level. The lead author of the study, Tanya Karagiannis, at Tufts believes that centenarians have an exceptional biological inheritance.

Sarah Berlin, show here with her husband and two of her three children, in 1946, has never been hospitalized for an illness.

“Our data support the hypothesis that centenarians have protective factors,” Karagiannis maintains, “that enable them to recover from disease and reach extreme old ages.”

According to the study, those who live to be 100 and beyond have an immune system that is able to quickly adapt to infection even as they grow older. It doesn’t decline as rapidly in centenarians as it does with those who don’t age well.

Berlin has enjoyed exceptional health. Her son said that, apart from the birth of her three children, she has never been hospitalized.

When she was born in 1914, Sarah Berlin was the last child born, all of whom lived, with the exception of a brother who died in an automobile accident, well into their 90s. Her oldest sister lived to be 99.

And Berlin still feels she has more years left. One of her sons, who was stranded at a New York airport and couldn’t make it to the party, called to apologize.

“Don’t worry,” Berlin told him, “you can come for my 110th birthday.”

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