Holocaust survivor Zoli Rubin turns 101, celebrating his birthday with friends, family and community members
By Jessie Cohen, The Detroit Jewish News
Zoli Rubin calls himself a stubborn old man. On June 11, in the company of Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, Rabbi E.B. “Bunny” Freedman, Cantor Daniel Gross and nine staff members from the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, he celebrated his 101st birthday
As his guests arrived, Zoli stood at his walker in the entryway to his spacious home in Farmington Hills, shaking hands with each person as they came in.
“I didn’t expect such a beautiful crowd,” he said, “or a crowd at all.”
Throughout much of the party, Zoli sat on a bench between the two rabbis and told stories of his fascinating life.
Zoli was born in Czechoslovakia as the youngest in a large family of 11 children. He had a lovely childhood that came to an end in 1942, when his parents were taken away by the Nazis. Zoli obtained fake papers that allowed him to pass as Christian and fight for the Slovak Army, but he was taken as a prisoner of war. He eventually escaped the camp and immigrated to Canada before moving to Detroit.
Despite his accomplishment of reaching such an advanced age, Zoli doesn’t always see it as a blessing.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m being punished to bear all the horrors of what I’ve been through,” he said. “These things are always on my back. I have lost too many.”
Zoli and Rabbi E.B. (Bunny) Freedman
However, Zoli says it is a true blessing that he could have a family again.
“I have children and grandchildren. I think the reason I survived is to build a family so that my family’s history didn’t disappear,” he said.
Zoli says the one thing that kept him alive to this day is his stubbornness.
“Whatever I went through, it was always in my mind that I was going to beat it. I’m a stubborn old man,” he said. “I’m going to bother you for a long time yet.”
When asked the secret to 101 years, Zoli gave a very touching response.
“You have to believe in a life,” he said. “You have to believe that everything is not bad, just the opposite. Everything is great. Everyone has the strength to get through the bad things because after the bad things end; there is a life ahead of you. If someone starts a life for you, you have to continue it.”
After some music from Cantor Gross, a cake was brought out and distributed to guests. Zoli excused himself and returned with a bottle of Slivovitz and a bottle of Johnny Walker. “Who’s going to have some?” he asked, which was met by laughter and smiles from all.
After cake and drinks, the guests began to leave, each giving Zoli a hug on their way out. One guest, Emily Croitori, volunteer services supervisor at Jewish Family Service (JFS), is particularly fond of Zoli.
“He’s always willing to come help in any way he can, always with a story and a joke,” she said. “He volunteered with JFS up until very recently.”
Krakoff also thinks highly of Zoli.
“I’m so inspired by his story of survival, will to live, perseverance and ability to celebrate life despite everything he’s been through,” he said. “He’s a role model for living life to the fullest.”
At 101, Zoli doesn’t plan to go anywhere any time soon.
“I’m looking forward to 102,” he said with a smile.