Centenarian Reflects on Family, Community Service

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Libby Yaffe is surrounded by her family. | Photo by Selah Maya Zighelboim

Relatives came from as far away as Switzerland and Israel to attend the 100th birthday party of the Yaffe family matriarch, Libby.

Libby Yaffe is the glue that holds the family together, granddaughter Samantha Rudick said at the party on Jan. 21. Other relatives recounted the holiday meals she cooked that brought the family together, her love of theater and dancing, or her volunteer activities — she volunteered for the elderly until she was 96.

“My bubbe has always kept the family together so well and been very loving and caring,” Rudick said.

Yaffe, born on Jan. 22 in 1918, was a daughter of Russian immigrants who had fled pogroms. She graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls, then went on to Strayer’s Business College (now Strayer University), where she studied to become a secretary.

“She loves to organize, and she’s very efficient and takes great pride in whatever she does,” Yaffe’s daughter Risa Yaffe said. “She made sure that any of her job responsibilities were completed perfectly.”

Because of World War II, Yaffe didn’t marry until she was 31 years old. She had already been dating her future husband, Harold, when a friend tried to set her up on a blind date with him as well.

Risa Yaffe said her father’s generosity is what made Libby Yaffe realize Harold was the one, but the centenarian had a different answer.

“He was a good kisser,” she recalled.

Libby Yaffe | Photo by Selah Maya Zighelboim

Libby Yaffe stopped working when she started a family. Her mother lived with them as well, so family members regularly came through the house.

“It was a lovely memory to have of this open house, where everyone was welcome,” Risa Yaffe said. “Seeing how my mother and her sisters loved their mother set a mood and a feeling, so now we all take great pleasure in giving back to my mother.”

Judaism was a large part of Libby Yaffe’s life, and she raised her children to feel the same way. She and her husband were some of the first members of Congregations of Shaare Shamayim, then called the Greater Northeast Jewish Congregation. Their children attended Hebrew school and became B’nai Mitzvahs there.

She also supported the Jewish community in various ways, by volunteering for KleinLife, fundraising for Israel and donating to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. She was also a cookie mom for the Girl Scouts and fundraised for the American Heart Association.

“[Judaism] gave her the whole background,” son-in-law David Rudick said. “It would be the canvas of her life. Everything was painted on that — her ethics, her morals, the way she met her husband, the way she raised her kids, the generosity. … It wasn’t an intellectual Judaism. It wasn’t Talmud scholar or something, but taking the very essence and being nurturing.”

When her kids got to middle and high school, Libby Yaffe returned to work as the head secretary for the math office for the School District of Philadelphia. It was an unusual move for a woman in her position at the time, and Risa Yaffe said Libby Yaffe was one of the first mothers she knew who went back to work.

“She didn’t feel quite as needed in the household anymore,” Risa Yaffe said. “She wanted to create more of a life for herself.”

After two decades with the school district, she retired.

But she was never one to just sit at home. In her retirement, Libby Yaffe did a great deal of volunteering. Always a people person, she started a travel club at KleinLife, where she organized trips to museums and shows in New York.

“What I’m proud of is being myself,” she said. 

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