Couple beats retirement blues working at senior center

"Working here is like therapy," said Toni, seated next to her husband in the lobby of the JCC. "The last thing we want to do is hang around the house all day."

According to Saul, a past board member of the Montefiore Center, the vigorous schedule of programs for older adults leaves little spare time for sitting around the house. For active seniors like the Wolfs, the center offers a variety of programs, including trips, classes, lectures, social events, films, dances, concerts, sing-alongs, holiday celebrations, and clubs.

These may be their golden years, filled with activities and rewarding volunteer work, but life for the Wolfs wasn't always so wonderful.

While it is almost impossible to imagine the impeccably well-dressed, sociable and articulate pair in their darker days, they were once inmates of Poland's Majdanek concentration camp during World War II.

Saul and Toni, who were part of the liberation of Majdanek, were both raised in Krakow, Poland. Now married for over 50 years, they met and fell in love while serving in the Polish army; Saul as a noncommissioned officer and Toni as a nurse.

Anti-Semitism drove them out of Poland in 1946, when they temporarily relocated to West Germany. There, they lived in a displaced persons camp until immigrating to the United States in 1949.

After initially heading to South Dakota, they settled in Colorado, where they opened a menswear boutique. In 1957, they moved to San Francisco, where Saul took a position as manager of a large fabric company. Meanwhile, Toni worked as a tailor and salesperson at Sears Roebuck.

Today, the two enjoy spending their free time reading, listening to music and visiting with their son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"You know," said Saul, leaning forward slightly and toying with a thread from his classic wool jacket, "I'm not getting any younger. But I plan to keep working here as long as I can."

In fact, Saul takes his job at the shuk quite seriously. Come rain or shine he is there, sifting through merchandise and using his own distinctive flair for fashion to help eager buyers find a bargain. He speaks Russian, Polish, German and Yiddish, and uses his linguistic skills to transact with customers whose first language is not English.

Sounding like a salesman, Saul explained that "not everyone can afford to buy things in department stores. The shuk allows people to find really nice high-quality items at a fraction of the cost."

Toni is equally proud to be a part of the center's kosher nutrition project, which makes it possible for seniors to enjoy meals for "just a dollar and a quarter."

"It's so nice to be in touch with people," she said. "We started working here because we wanted to do something for the community. But, to be honest, I think we're getting more — much more — in return."