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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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The Elizabeth resident of 97 years and former ShopRite/Wakefern developer was feted at the Englewood ShopRite.

By Ellie Wolf

“If God wants it, so be it. If not, then that’s what He wants.” Succinctly put, these are the words and wisdom of Roz Schwartzberg, and her outlook on the role of Hashem in this world. To mark her 101st birthday, she was recently feted by her former employers at a Glass Gardens ShopRite store in Englewood.

Schwartzberg still drives her own car, maintains her own cozy home, complete with an oversized “walk-in terrarium,” and makes it to shul every Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Born in Brooklyn in 1921, Schwartzberg has lived in the same home in Elizabeth since 1925. She describes her long life as “mostly happy,” recalling her youth and reminiscing about her parents, two brothers and a sister. “Wednesdays with Aunt Roz,” planned weekly by her wonderful nieces and nephews, are precious. “The rewarding feeling those visits provide are priceless,” she said.

Active in numerous social activities and local community college programs, Schwartzberg enjoys her independence, still attends the theater, and believes in holding the door open for someone younger, even as a centenarian. She has traveled the world via air, car and cruise ship, and values the lessons she has learned on the road. “Traveling teaches tolerance and helps people learn to adjust their expectations,” she said. Notably, she does all this without a cell phone: “It doesn’t do anything for me.”

Schwartzberg has great respect for the charitable organizations to which she contributes. Describing herself as a minor donor who wants to see results, her selection process involves “… identifying an organization with concern for humanity and for the environment.” For example, she appreciates the Jewish National Fund for its focus on both the development of the land of Israel as well as its citizens, and its behind-the-scenes work to improve the quality of life of those in need. With the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and the UJA, Roz appreciates that she can see her donations at work in the organization and in the community, providing vital programs that make a difference.

Debra Levenstein, senior development officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest characterized Schwartzberg plainly, following a recent meeting with her: “She’s sharp as a tack.” Schwartzberg also gives of herself, volunteering with Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth.

During World War II, Schwartzberg served as a U.S. Navy WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, created in 1942 by President Roosevelt), attending a six-week boot camp in the Bronx where she received extensive education in retail supplies and accounts. She rose to the rank of Wave, Second Class, and her later private-enterprise colleagues describe her and her contribution to their operation as “nothing short of first class.”

Schwartzberg was stationed in the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts in Washington, D.C., managing supplies for the war effort and post-war recovery. She worked with computer and keypunch equipment, and magnetic recording tape and tape cassettes, when they were emerging technologies. She went on to work for the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Revolving Fund, responsible for the distribution of funds to delegated divisions of the military service.

Following her service in the Navy, she returned to Elizabeth in 1946 and worked in numerous related positions, growing in her skills and being promoted. She quipped that there was no such thing as a “profession,” in those days. “There was a 44-hour work week, and you had a job.”

This training and experience set her up for what would soon become a lifetime career with the Wakefern and ShopRite family of grocery businesses. In 1958, Schwartzberg began her career with ShopRite and Wakefern. (Wakefern Food Corporation is a regional retailers’ cooperative group for Shoprite and other stores.) “Pathmark was still part of the operation, until they split.”

Her expertise was in material development for new stores and the renovation of existing structures purchased to become grocery stores. It was Schwartzberg’s job to select and purchase the furnishings and equipment and to design the customer traffic flow, the layout of the shelving, checkout lanes and other structures throughout the stores.

Irv Glass of Glass Gardens, one of the current owners of 11 ShopRite stores in the area, told The Jewish Link: “When Roz retired in 1985, it took 20 people to replace her! She was also very involved in the sideline of matchmaking with company employees.”

Terry Glass, also a current owner, said, “Roz was the glue that held Wakefern together, and she will never be forgotten.”

Bill Sumas of Glass Gardens said: “Roz always had a cluttered desk. One day I asked about something and she miraculously pulled out [exactly] the paper that I needed; I was flabbergasted! She was something else at Wakefern.” This exact story was also related by Irv Glass, describing a similar occurrence.

As a surprise for Schwartzberg’s 101st birthday, Irv and Terry Glass met her at the Englewood ShopRite store on Monday to celebrate and to recognize her outstanding service to the company. They hadn’t seen each other in the 37 years since she retired. Needless to say, it was a priceless moment and the reunion was quite a moving occasion. After reminiscing for a while and catching up on family, they brought Schwartzberg to the front of the store, where they presented her with a certificate, a beautiful kosher gift basket and a personal gift. It was a truly touching moment when the ShopRite staff and customers spontaneously joined in applause and well wishes.

Having moved throughout the store with a shopping cart to assist her in walking, Schwartzberg approached the checkout area with a couple of items she intended to purchase. Irv Glass wanted her to check out in the “special guest customer service pass lane,” but she insisted on paying, and he apparently knew better than to challenge her. He then brought his car around to the front of the store and personally drove her home.

Schwartzberg is grateful to be able to attend shul at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elizabeth every Shabbat, without the aid of any appliance to make the walk. Conveniently, the shul is opposite her own backyard, and just around the corner. She makes the climb upstairs to the women’s section and stands for the entire service, since changing positions is more difficult for her than standing. She especially appreciates the rabbi’s parsha shiur, delivered during a plentiful kiddush every week, and describes the kiddush crowd as “very together. There is gefilte fish, salad, dips … and the liquor—it goes.” While Schwartzberg doesn’t attend every event, she supports the activities in other ways. She loves the friendly environment, the concern and the all-inclusive perspective of the members, who accept her as she is and visit her frequently at her home.

Rabbi Shmuel Burnstein, rabbi of Adath Jeshurun, shared: “Our shul is truly blessed to have some very special members, and baruch Hashem, one such person is our centenarian, Ms. Roslyn Schwartzberg. Her devotion and loyalty to our shul are legendary. She never misses a Shabbos or Yom Tov. The modest way she conducts herself during davening and mitzvah performance with sincerity and devotion is worth emulating; and her presence is an inspiration to us.

“Shabbos Kiddush and whenever we have a special event, Ms. Schwartzberg is of the first to offer assistance. When I say ‘assistance,’ I don’t mean merely to offer advice; I mean work. She volunteers to schlep, set up, decorate, and also [offers] advice and ideas—anything and everything. Nothing is beneath her, nor [beyond] her reach. She never seeks recognition, but when people become aware, they have the same reaction: They can’t keep up with her.

“When we, baruch Hashem, executed a successful event, I sat down with Roz to review how things went and to share nachas. She quickly redirected my thoughts by saying, ‘What are we doing next?’ No time to sit by; instead, let’s start preparing the next event, something even better. What a lesson! I think about it often. It is good mussar [education in moral and ethical conduct] to never be satisfied and content with the status quo, without also having the outlook to constantly improve and progress.”

Finally, Rabbi Burnstein added a small vignette that beautifully characterizes his view of Schwartzberg. “Recently, I had the privilege to attend a family event of hers. Ms. Schwartzberg introduced me to one of her nephews as her rabbi. I may be her rabbi, but she is my mentor. May Hashem bless her with many more years in good health and happiness, and may she continue to enrich the lives of all those she touches.”

And of course, Schwartzberg graciously shared her perspective on some important life lessons that time has taught her. “Follow your heart; don’t change what’s in your heart. Accept and broaden it, if you can. Learning to share is the truest happiness. Learn to accept help, and assure others that help is available. Be able to receive appreciation. Honor and consider your fellow person. Understand that I am not God’s policeman, unless it comes into my hands.”

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