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Dorothy Hilf: Involved and Active

By Catherine Tolchin and Susan Samuels | Issue Date: August 2009

From left: Gert Litowitz and Dorothy Hilf. Photo: Channa CaminsMeet Dorothy Hilf: 102 years young and very much involved in the BJ community. Come to BJ’s lunch program on Thursday and you will see Dorothy in action, greeting guests, handing out food packages, laughing and talking with fellow volunteers and guests, eyes sparkling, full of energy and happy to be participating in this program that is so meaningful to her.

Each Shabbat you will see Dorothy sitting up front with her cousin Gert Litowitz and fellow-volunteer Rose Alpert and many other friends. Members of the congregation stop by to greet Dorothy, share a thought with her, and give her a hug.

Dorothy says she was attracted to BJ because of its vitality and vibrant sense of community. When she and her cousin Gert were looking for a new religious community to join, they decided to visit different synagogues each weekend: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. This openness to new experiences and search for meaningful ways to connect and be involved is fundamental to both Dorothy’s and Gert’s approach to life.

BJ was the fifth synagogue they visited. Immediately, they knew this was a perfect fit. They were drawn in by the warmth of the service and the friendliness of the people around them. Although Dorothy also belongs to an Orthodox synagogue, she likes being able to read the service in English at BJ. She also discovered that BJ had many activities outside of the religious service. First, she was drawn to the weekly discussion group after services to study the week’s Torah portion.

Looking for more, she learned about the BJ lunch program and was drawn to the idea of rolling up her sleeves to help those less fortunate—providing a nutritious lunch and socializing with guests in a warm and inviting environment.

This active involvement characterizes Dorothy and is related to the work she did as the Executive Director of ORT for 25 years.

Dorothy speaks with vivid enthusiasm about her years with ORT. She felt she was doing meaningful work, teaching Jewish people industrial skills so they could earn a living. She visited many countries and worked with governments to build schools that taught necessary skills to help people build meaningful lives. As if this weren’t enough, Dorothy went on to run a profitable handbag business with her husband for another 25 years.

When asked about her longevity, Dorothy says a big factor is to keep moving, doing, and being active. She says it is the combination of physical and mental activity that works for her, having the will and the courage to keep going.

Physically active in sports until her 80’s, she loved to ski, ice skate, and swim. She also has many interests that keep her engaged and active. Dorothy also remains intellectually engaged: she loves to read and looks forward every morning to her newspaper to find out what is going on in the world.

She has only one regret. For her hundredth birthday, she was given a computer, but didn’t use it and gave it to her granddaughter. Now she misses it. She feels there is so much for her yet to learn.

Her advice to the BJ community—get involved!