Henrietta Baron (Photo/Elissa Einhorn)
Henrietta Baron (Photo/Elissa Einhorn)

‘Three ageless’ at Sacramento shul top 300 years of life

When Michael Hayward was a young boy, his mother took him to the doctor to check on his asthma. The physician reassured her that not only was her son healthy, but that he would live to be 70.

While not so remarkable by today’s standards, the visit took place in the 1920s, when the life expectancy for a man was about 58 years old.

Hayward not only met, but far exceeded his doctor’s tongue-in-cheek prediction. Having celebrated his 100th birthday in April, he is now the “baby” of a threesome of centenarians at Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento. The others are Henrietta Baron and Lou Weintraub. Baron, whose life began in 1913 as a surprise 4-pound twin, is a few months older than Weintraub, who was born in 1914.

“The rabbi calls us the ‘three ageless,’ ” notes Weintraub, referring to Rabbi Reuven Taff, spiritual leader of the area’s only Conservative shul.

Weintraub’s “life experience has provided him a platform for his sage advice to Jewish leaders from all over the country.,” says Taff. “He has been ‘The Godfather’ for anyone working as a Jewish professional.”

It’s a role Weintraub honed during his long career as a Jewish communal professional, including in the Bay Area. He served as the executive vice president of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, helping to raise millions of dollars during the late 1940s and early ‘50s, as well as the Western States Regional Director for the Council of Jewish Federations.

Lou Weintraub
Lou Weintraub

Weintraub barely slowed down following his retirement in 1979. He volunteered with the Sacramento federation and continues to serve on the boards of the Renaissance Society, a Sacramento State University seminar program for retirees, and the Trust Fund for the Jewish Elderly, which allocates funds for senior activities.

A Utica, New York, native who always seems to have a song cued up on his lips, Weintraub also finds time to work out with a personal trainer twice a week, doing sit-ups and strength training.

“You have to stay active if you plan to stay alive,” he says, adding, “They have to tailor the exercises for an alter kocker [Yiddish pejorative for old person].”

Yiddish, it turns out, is Baron’s first language and the only one that her immigrant parents from Minsk allowed to be spoken in her Bronx home.

An active member of the local Yiddish club, Barron has presented poetry, songs and educational programs to introduce the language of her childhood to others.

During an era when not many women pursued higher education, Baron received her undergraduate degree in dance and her graduate degree in physical therapy from Columbia University.

Regarded by Taff as a “Renaissance woman,” she is a seamstress and author of the 1977 publication “Everybody Can Cook: Techniques for the Handicapped,” which is listed in the Library of Congress.

A dancer, Baron caught the eye of Ruth St. Denis, who arrived in the Bronx from California to begin a dance school. Another of St. Denis’ students was acclaimed American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham — under whom Baron also studied — before Barron herself became a dance instructor.

“I know what the intellectual Jews brought to this country,” Baron recalls St. Denis telling her about why she wanted Baron as a student.

Taff describes the nearly 104-year-old Baron as “feisty.” She agrees — but also concedes that at her age it’s a miracle that she remembers anything. “I’m a softie and a hardie,” she says.

Michael Hayward

Whether asked about secrets to longevity, what keeps her young, or what advice she has for leading a long life, her response is the same: “Ask Him,” as she nods her head toward the ceiling. Then she adds, “I enjoy getting up in the morning and knowing I’m still alive.”

Hayward, who, like Baron, grew up in the Bronx, shares a similar sentiment, saying, “It’s incredible for me sometimes to realize I’ve been here for so long.”

Commenting on Hayward’s long career as a United Nation’s broadcaster, which was entered into the oral history archives at Sacramento State University, Taff says, “Michael has met presidents and prime ministers and diplomats from all over the world. What those world leaders didn’t know was that they were in the presence of a man I consider royalty, but royalty with deep humility.”

Hayward, in fact, brought his U.N. broadcasting prowess — where his pioneering work included the first use of microphones during press conferences — with him to Sacramento as a founder of Access Sacramento, the area’s cable network, in the early 1980s.

Today his main involvement is in the community and attending services at Mosaic Law. Among his most enduring achievements at the shul is being the “H” in the KOH Library and Cultural Center, created with fellow congregants Hy Kashenberg and the late Bill Ostrow, where he still serves on the board. Since its opening in 2009, KOH has organized book clubs, film clubs, discussion groups, art exhibits and countless educational programs for the entire Sacramento community.

“KOH has done more to succeed than we ever envisioned,” Hayward says with pride.

None of these centenarians appear to think about their legacies, or find anything particularly remarkable about the history they’ve witnessed during their collective 300-plus years. Baron speaks of her book as a remarkable accomplishment, saying, “I never thought I would write a book about a program that was needed to train handicapped people in independent living skills.” Hayward and Weintraub describe the world’s changes as “incremental” — meaning they happen as you’re living, although Hayward jokes, “The prerequisite is to live.”

If the three have any secrets to share about their long lives, they are: remain active, stay positive, and be part of your community.

“You live for tomorrow,” Weintraub says. “For the rest of my life, I’ll try to do as I’ve done up until now.”

Elissa Einhorn
Elissa Einhorn

Elissa Einhorn began her writing career in the Bronx at the age of 8. She earned a master’s degree in communications and journalism 20 years later. While Elissa worked for non-profits her entire career, including as a Jewish communal professional, she now enjoys working for herself as a freelance writer. Still, her most treasured role is that of ima (mom) to twin daughters who she is (finally) happy to count among her friends.