Goldie Michelson, purported to be the oldest American, passed away on Friday in her home at the age of 113 years and 11 months—just shy of her 114th birthday. Her funeral was held yesterday in Worcester, Mass., where she lived her entire life.

Her father, Max Corash, a doctor facing conscription into the Russian army, immigrated to Worcester from Russia, sending for his wife and children—Michelson had two brothers—when Goldie was 2.

“I met her when she was 108 years old,” said Rabbi Mendel Fogelman, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Central Massachusetts. “She was a regal woman, sitting in her living room, clear as a bell, very sharp and very aware of everything that was going on with Chabad in our community.”

For the past three years, Fogelman had been visiting Michelson regularly and delivering challahs to her every Friday.

“One week, we missed a delivery,” said Fogelman, “and her caretaker called to ask where the challah was. Even at the point when she could no longer eat the challah, she had a appreciation for it.”

During one conversation, Michelson told Fogelman that her early 1900s’ childhood home was on Newton Street—the same street as the current Chabad House. She also noted that her home was the first one in Worcester to have air-conditioning.

Since she outlived most of her contemporaries, Michelson had few visitors toward the end of her life, save for Fogelman. She did receive a congratulatory letter from Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on her 108th birthday. And when she became a supercentenarian—joining those who have lived to the age of 110—she received a photograph and letter from President Barack Obama.

“At the funeral, her family members expressed their appreciation of us and how touched they were by what Chabad did for their mother,” said Fogelman. “They approached me and said, ‘You’re the Lubavitcher! We’re well aware of the kindness you extended to Goldie all these years.’ ”

The rabbi lights Chanukah candles for Michelson; he also delivered challah to her.
The rabbi lights Chanukah candles for Michelson; he also delivered challah to her.

‘Like Family to Me’

Throughout her life, Michelson valued academics and was active in various Jewish causes, such as Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women. She was also involved in community groups, including one that supported the founding of Brandeis University.

She graduated from Pembroke College of Brown University and earned a master’s degree in sociology from Clark University in Worcester at a time when women were for the most part not seeking out secondary degrees. Her thesis at Clark was titled “A Citizenship Survey of Worcester Jewry,” which examined why many of the city’s older Jewish immigrants did not pursue American citizenship or even strive to learn English.

Michelson worked as a social worker in Worcester and later taught religious education. A theater buff, she also directed plays at a local synagogue. She married David Michelson, a businessman who developed medical office buildings, and they had a daughter, Renee. He passed away in 1974; in his honor, Michelson endowed the Michelson Theater, and the David and Goldie Michelson Drama Fund, both at Clark University.

Whenever new Russian immigrants arrived in Worcester, Michelson helped welcome them. Sima Kustanovich, who met Michelson in 1979, fondly recalls their relationship.

“She was the first person who spoke to me in English, even though I didn’t know it at all,” said 67-year-old Kustanovich. “She did amazing things to help me many times in my life. Our close relationship was more than friendship—she was like family to me.”

Kustanovich recounted Michelson’s good sense of humor, sensitivity to the emotions of others and her open-mindedness.

Nearly five years ago, Kustanovich asked Michelson: “Aren’t you bored being home all of the time?”

Michelson replied: “It’s funny; I’m never bored. I have so many things to remember.”