“It’s not easy getting older, but there’s still a lot of pleasure in life,” says Yitzak Eisenberg who turns 100 this week.
In an interview, the centenarian said the things that helped him along the way are “my beloved family, exercise, playing cards and a lot of determination.”
Eisenberg was born in Radom, Poland, on Jan. 6, 1913, and worked as a tailor. When there was no work for him in Radom, he moved to Lodz in 1933.
In 1939, with thousands of other Jews, he fled to the Russian border, where he had to sign up for hard labour to get into the country.
In Siberia, he worked with some 20,000 other Jews in a factory in Magnitogorsk, an industrial mining town that supported the war industry.
“I pretended that I was sick and had a pain in my chest,” he recalled. “They gave me four weeks off. I was very fearful as my brother was accused of being a spy and was assassinated.” His brother was later exonerated, he added.
Through a chance meeting with a woman who knew his brother, he was able to get a job as a tailor, making clothes for the people working in the factory.
Although the work was not difficult, “I lived in fear day and night. I was afraid I would be accused of something as my brother had been.”
After the war, Eisenberg did not want to return to Poland because of the antisemitism. He found his way to Stuttgart, Germany, where he applied to go to America with his wife, Channah (Frenkiel).
He arrived in Canada in 1946 and thought that Canada was America – the United States. “But it turned out for the best, as my father’s sister lived in Toronto,” he said with a smile. “I was really born in 1946 when I arrived in Canada.”
Over the next few decades, Eisenberg tried some different ventures – working as a tailor, at a dry cleaners, in a furniture store, in pickle importing, as a real estate agent and in the building business.
An entrepreneur, he admitted that he had a lot of courage and foresight and always had a vision for improving his life.
In the early 1960s, Eisenberg’s desire to remain strong and healthy began. “I joined Vic Tanny’s gym and bought a life membership for $18.”
He said that around that time, he also began playing cards to keep his mind sharp.
When he retired at age 65, Eisenberg began swimming an hour every day and working out on the resistance machines.
At 85, although he was fit, he needed bypass surgery. The doctors did not want to operate at his age. He told the doctors not to judge him by his age. “I am fit and I want the operation,” he told them.
“And I’ve gone on to live 15 more vital years.”
At 93, he joined the Columbus Centre Gym, and four years later, they gave him a free lifetime membership.
Eisenberg has two children, Morty Eisenberg and Helene Smagala, six grandchildren and is expecting their first great-grandchild.
Although Eisenberg has macular degeneration and is legally blind, he walks a mile at the Columbus Centre and continues to use the resistance machines.
His daughter, Helene, told The CJN that her father is “a fearlessly and independent man. He continues to take the bus to his appointments and continues to do whatever he can.”
Eisenberg will celebrate his 100th birthday at a party at the Columbus Centre on Jan. 6, where 150 guests, including seven family members from Israel, will toast the centenarian.