BOCA RATON — When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the Levis Jewish Community Center last year, 98-year-old Trudy Berlin sprang into action to keep her weekly women’s group active.
For Berlin, who began hosting “The Ladies Room” at the JCC’s Sandler Center in 2000, the show needed to go on. So with a little help from Stephanie Owitz, the Boca Raton, Florida, center’s director of arts, culture and learning, the show went virtual.
“When the pandemic hit, of course, she was very disappointed we were shutting down the JCC,” Owitz said. Then, the center decided to make some classes, including Berlin’s, available on Zoom.
“At first she was very intimidated by that idea. She’s 98 years old and not that comfortable with the technology, but I assured her I would help her get started,” Owitz said.
Since March, Berlin has grown a steady Tuesday morning audience of about 50 women, mostly age 70 and up, from the United States and Canada. They discuss everything from grief to politics.
“I’m happiest when I can be talking to a group, and I believe in groups very very much,” Berlin said.
At first, Berlin did the show from her Boca Raton apartment. Now that the center has reopened, she does her virtual class from the JCC, sitting at a table with newspapers and notes spread out in front of her.
The participants find Berlin inspiring, even dubbing her the “Jewish Oprah.”
“She challenges us, she makes us think,” said Marilyn Snider, 79, of Toronto. “Her energy is absolutely unbelievable. She brings out thoughts that you never thought you would ever express.”
The virtual group has been especially important to Snider, who usually spends winters with her husband in Boca Raton. For seven years she attended the in-person group. So when the pandemic hit, and she stayed home in Canada, she thought she’d miss out on her weekly women’s group.
“That was a horrible thing when we thought, `Oh my God, what are we going to do now?’” Snider said. “I can’t imaging having gone through this past year not having the existence of Zoom, to be able to do the things that we are doing. It’s been my sanity, personally.”
Berlin is a strong advocate for older women.
“As you grow older, I think that the world can become very difficult for old people and they give up,” she said.
Berlin said in her younger days she used to get love notes.
“Now I get gratitude notes saying thank you, and each has its place,” she said. “I think if communities could learn to do this, and if government could learn to do this, just to listen and then respond. That’s the important thing”
Each week Berlin comes up with a theme for the show, and then the conversation moves in whatever direction the woman care to take it.
“I always feel when I sit here that I’m on a spaceship,” Berlin said at the beginning of a recent show. “We’re set to go. And we’re all flying off together.”
On this day, she holds up a book she recently read, pages marked with colorful sticky notes. Her topic: Had someone told you that the pandemic would last more than a year, would you have prepared differently?
Owitz calls on Brenda Soloman to answer that question. “I’ve learned to live more in the moment,” Solomon tells the group. “And it’s been very, very, very beneficial to me.”
Said Owitz: “She prepares. She spends all week preparing for it.”
They plan to continue with the virtual class through the summer, and in the fall they’ll see how everyone feels about resuming an in-person class, Owitz said. However, they’ll still record the class and offer it virtually because so many people who don’t live in Boca Raton have joined.
“It’s a whole new world out there, and I’m having fun and a good time,” Berlin said.
By FREIDA FRISARO and CODY JACKSON, Associated Press