Doris Sperber at her 110th birthday party, Jan. 18, 2018  (Photo/Dan Pine)
Doris Sperber at her 110th birthday party, Jan. 18, 2018 (Photo/Dan Pine)

Doris Sperber, who became bat mitzvah at 100, dies at 111

San Francisco resident Doris Sperber, at age 111 likely the oldest person in the city if not the state, died on May 9, leaving behind a legacy of kindness and deep caring, said her son, Stephen Sperber of Berkeley.

“She was a special person,” he said. “Such an optimistic, hopeful person who so wanted people to be kind to one another.”

Doris Sperber with her late husband, Reuben, in the 1940s (Photo/Courtesy Steven Sperber)
Doris Sperber with her late husband, Reuben, in the 1940s (Photo/Courtesy Steven Sperber)

Born in 1908, Sperber lived through the advent of women’s suffrage, two world wars and the Great Depression. Over the course of her life, she and her husband raised four sons, built a business, volunteered in their Jewish community and lived through more than a century of American history. Although she was an adult by the time the first television image was transmitted, she lived long enough that in 2012 her son was able to show her photographs of her new great-granddaughter on a smartphone.

As a young Orthodox woman, Doris Jablonsky worked in her parents’ tailor shop in Brooklyn’s Boro Park neighborhood. Soon after she married, Sperber worked for New York Social Services before settling in as a mother, homemaker and assistant in her husband’s accounting practice.

Doris and Reuben Sperber — who was 100 when he died in 2007 — were married for more than 75 years. They loved to swing dance and travel, especially after their sons were grown. The couple lived in Florida for 30 years, then moved to the Bay Area around 2000. A resident of Rhoda Goldman Plaza and then the Jewish Home, Sperber was a dedicated member of Reform Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, where her sons David and Fred took her every Saturday.

In 2008, when she was 100 years old, she chose to have a bat mitzvah to honor her deep connection to her Jewish faith, something girls weren’t allowed to do when she was young. In her bat mitzvah speech (during which she admitted to being “scared stiff”), she also spoke of her commitment to equal rights and justice, which she said she tried to transmit to her children, Stephen, Joel, Frederick and David, all of whom survive her.

“She’s right,” Stephen Sperber said. “She raised four boys and we’re all very committed to public service.”

And through it all, she lived with a love for Judaism and a commitment to equality while remaining, in Stephen’s words, a “gentle, kind, giving, loving, unselfish soul” who just wanted people to treat each other with compassion.

“If that could be her legacy, she would be smiling,” he said.

Contributions in Doris Sperber’s memory can be made to Hospice by the Bay or the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.