By Michelle Cohen
When Lillian Herman arrived at Olive Garden for a lunch with a dozen friends, she looked around the room eagerly. “Where are all the men?” she asked. “Why is it a whole table full of ladies?”
To an onlooker, it may have sounded like a bachelorette party. But this group was here to celebrate for an entirely different reason – born on July 10, 1918, Lillian was celebrating her 100th birthday.
The gathering was organized by Lillian's friend Debbie Ovitz, who met her and her husband Ben as a Jewish Family Service volunteer. Their relationship started as a ride-sharing system and developed into so much more, with Herman spending a lot of time and Jewish holidays at Debbie’s house.
“Today is a very special day. I met Lillian 31 years ago and she was younger than I am now. She always loved to go everywhere – Hershey Park, shopping, riding in the car with me,” said Debbie, who considers Lillian as “absolutely part of our family.”
“It’s a great day and a great celebration and a wonderful friendship between Debbie and Lillian,” added Diane Silverman, who first introduced the pair all those years ago.
Debbie has since introduced Lillian to her friends, many of whom joined her for her birthday celebration. “I met her through Debbie and she became part of the family. She showed up for all the holidays and it’s wonderful to see her as part of Debbie’s family and our friendship family,” said Tamar, who Lillian enthusiastically waved to from across the table.
“We go back many years,” added Arlene Herling. “She’s always bubbly and lots of fun to be with. And thank God she’s here for this celebration.”
The century-long path to reach this special day took place entirely in Allentown. Lillian was raised by an aunt and uncle in the Sixth Ward after her mother died giving birth to her. She graduated from Allen High School and found a job in a local factory, where she met her husband Ben, who wrote her poetry throughout the years of their marriage. After her husband died, Leo, a friend of his, came into her life. Lillian, who has no children, lived at Bnai Brith Apartments for many years and now lives at Phoebe Allentown, where she enjoys playing bingo and socializing with friends.
“I enjoy being in the company of everyone here and especially having my good friend and her daughter” plan the party, Lillian said. “I have so many nice friends here.”
Many of her friends are drawn to her lively personality. As Susan Hochhauser said, “she’s always been a pleasure to be with. She’s fun and it’s nice to spend time with somebody who you can laugh with and enjoy the day.”
Lillian cites her longevity to a positive outlook. She moderates her snacks – including a nightly nibble of eight potato chips and six Hershey kisses – and wakes up every morning singing. “I’m very lucky to have a healthy life,” Lillian said, and she takes advantage of every opportunity to do everything that everyone else is doing.
Except, perhaps, for eating a large piece of birthday cake – “I don’t want to get fat, the boys wouldn’t like me,” she exclaimed to raucous laughter. With a goal of staying healthy as long as she can, Lillian’s lively spirit will hopefully keep her young for years to come.