Wisdom Project | Morris Waitz, 100, Keeps Thinking About Tomorrow

By | Mar 01, 2024
Morris Waitz


The Waitz family posing on their starcase

Morris Waitz and his family. (Photo courtesy of Morris Waitz)

The Wisdom Project at Moment: Inspirational conversations with wise people who have been fortunate to live long lives


This week’s conversation is with Morris Waitz, 100, of Tappan, New York.

Morris Waitz is a newly minted centenarian, born on January 4, 1924, if you believe his birth certificate—or January 28 if you believe his mother. (The doctor who delivered him mixed up the birth dates of the Waitz and Waite families’ babies in the town records.) At 100, he’s an active member of Rockland County’s Orangetown Jewish Center and pursues an eclectic range of interests, from baking challah and pastries to woodworking, leathercraft, winemaking and knitting.

The fifth of nine children, Waitz grew up in the only Jewish family in Billerica, Massachusetts, about 20 miles northwest of Boston. His parents, Harry and Gertrude Waitz, were a tailor and homemaker, respectively. The family attended synagogue six miles away in Lowell every day before school and again at night.

Following his U.S. Army Air Force service in World War II, Waitz enjoyed a 51-year career in the construction departments of two retail giants, W.T. Grant and Caldor. On a visit to an Army buddy in Brighton Beach soon after the war, he met Leah Katz, soon to be Leah Waitz, the love of his life. They were married for 71 years before she died in 2022 at age 96. They had four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

His zest for life has always been “inspiring,” his son, Aaron, says. Moment recently caught up with Morris to learn more.

Did you think you would live to be 100?

No! I had my fortune read when I was in the service in World War II, and my fortune was that I would live only to 21 years, period. I think I was 19 at the time. So, I beat that by a little bit.

What’s the secret to a loving 71-year marriage?

 You have to be compassionate. You have to talk back and forth, share your happy moments, your sad moments. You’ve got to keep the conversation going.

Who has inspired you in your life?

I had a very close friend, Rabbi Leon Mirsky, from West Haven, Connecticut. He was like a brother to me. I met him in Charlotte, North Carolina, when I was stationed there. He was just a cantor then and I would go into town weekly for Shabbat services. We stayed lifelong friends. He made me a more observant Jew. I traveled constantly for business and was rigorous about following religious rituals faithfully, including kashrut and prayer.

I was also inspired by my parents. They always pushed us forward and never held us back. Even though I didn’t go to college—I was drafted, instead—they financially supported many of my brothers and sisters so they could go. That propelled them professionally to a better life.

Then there are the people you meet in life along the way. Names I don’t know, but there are always certain people who inspire you in certain ways and it all sinks in.

What was the most important learning experience in your life?

Morris Waitz military portrait in uniform

Morris Waitz’s military portrait. (Photo courtesy of Morris Waitz)

Getting married! That and going into the Army. I was young, still in high school. In the Army, you had to do everything for yourself. You make friends, but you are basically alone. There’s no privacy.

I started in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, before Charlotte and Texas. In Charlotte, I was scheduled to deploy overseas with my group. That night I got appendicitis and had an operation. They went without me. In Texas, I volunteered to bring back B-29s from Hawaii. I went as a radio operator and gunner.

You would have shipped out to Europe if appendicitis hadn’t quashed that plan. How much of life is planning and how much is chance? Or fate, or luck?

I believe that most of life is a function of your own actions. You can’t plan on chance but if things happen, you need to roll with the punches. But still keep on your plan as best as possible.

When you were stateside, did you know what was going on in Europe?

Yes, very much so. We had family both in Poland, my father’s family, and Austria, my mother’s. In my mother’s family, HIAS rescued my grandmother and grandfather, and an uncle and one sister. That was all, of a large family. On my father’s side, in Poland, nobody came out. Everybody was lost.

I kept telling myself that my reason for being in the service was to go over to pay ’em [the Nazis] back, to give them what they deserved. That’s what I think most Jewish boys had in mind; they were in the service to punish the Nazis.  

What do you think when you see antisemitism today?

Personally, I think the world is crazy. Everybody is looking to fight everybody else. First thing on the news: the killings. So, the world really hasn’t changed too much. It’s still the same and it still needs a lot of help.

How can parents make a better world for their children?

They can focus on highlighting the benefits of education. They can advocate to make a college education easy and more affordable for all.

How do we get through troubled times? How do we find purpose and meaning amidst the chaos?

You keep thinking about tomorrow. You try to make it better for the kids so they don’t have to go through what you went through, what your family went through.

Would you say that you’re an optimist?

Yes, I would say so.

If you think the world is crazy, how can you be an optimist?

Because I lived through some terrible parts of human history and saw the world rebuild itself. I remain optimistic that that can happen again.

Is there anything that you have changed your mind about over the years?  

When my wife and I moved here, I joined the Orangetown Jewish Center on day one. I was very active there—whatever they needed done, I did. We had a temporary rabbi who came to me one day and said we were hiring a new rabbi and that the rabbi was a woman. I was shocked. I told her how I felt about the situation the day she was hired. I remember standing at the bottom of the bimah, saying, “Rabbi, you won’t see me up there as long as you’re there.”

It didn’t make any difference to her. She just ignored it.

That was ten years ago. And sometimes, I’ll be honest with you, people used to leave the bimah when I was called up. But I changed! She and I are now very close. I have an open door for Rabbi [Paula Mack] Drill now! She comes right in and she doesn’t even have to knock.

So, don’t judge a book by its cover. You need to be open to challenging your own prejudices to see the good in other people. In talking with Rabbi Drill about this, from her perspective, the learning was to have confidence in yourself and through patience and persistence people will see your inner beauty and accept you for who you are and what you can offer them.

At age 100, does anything still surprise you?

Well, I’m always surprised with the scientific stuff that’s going on. We went from a horse and buggy to gas-powered cars. Now we don’t even need gas.

What do you think the biggest problem facing the world today is?

Making peace. Making peace with everybody.

What would that take?

I don’t know. I can’t answer that one. If you come up with a good answer, let me know.

What life’s advice do you give your grandchildren?

The grandchildren should be giving me advice! I would say, stay close with your family. Staying close is a sign of respect for all they have provided to you. Your parents can be helpful to you [from their own] experiences. Their insight can guide you to navigate and overcome your problems. 

How do you deal with loss?

You go along. What other choice do you have? It’s sad, but it’s part of life too. I’m learning a lot now about resilience and adapting to new situations. And accepting.

How did you develop your wide variety of interests and hobbies?

When you grow up in a town that doesn’t have a Jewish congregation, it’s hard to buy anything. You make everything yourself. We [even] made our own furniture. I just finished a week ago covering four dining room chairs. Always have something to do. It keeps your mind going.

Top Image: Left, a portrait of Morris Waitz. Right, Morris Waitz as a radio operator during WWII.

One thought on “Wisdom Project | Morris Waitz, 100, Keeps Thinking About Tomorrow

  1. Lydia Katz says:

    Morris and Leah Waitz were some of the wonderful rewards of belonging to Orangetown Jewish Center. Both were so dignified and majestic that I looked up to them from the first day I joined. (And I am not that much younger than Morris.) They impressed me as being two holy people and I love to watch them when they davened. When Leah walked over to me to wish me Shabbat Tov her warmth went right through me. Sadly, I no longer drive so I don’t get to services as much but I still see Morris on Zoom. Meeting them was a special gift. I miss Leah and I am sure Morris misses her much more. You could see how he always took care of her.

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