What is it that keeps you going?
While many of us may spend some time pondering the question, 99-year-old volunteer Estelle Green will answer immediately — the National Council of Jewish Women’s Council Thrift Shop in Bergenfield.
“I’m a people person,” explained Ms. Green, who has worked in the shop for decades. “You make friends with customers. I could be here five days a week.”
And there’s more, she said. “The thrift shop is nonprofit. Our money goes to community services all over the county. I could get on a soapbox to tell you how fabulous it is and what we do for the community.”
That accords well with the organization’s self-description, as drawn from a recent statement. “Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.”
Ms. Greene, who was born in Massachusetts on February 11, 1920 — and whose mother was a life member of NCJW — found her way to New York to work in the fashion industry on Seventh Avenue. “I was in the textile business,” she said. “I was a buyer for specialty stores all over the country.” Her late husband, Jule, also was in fashion. Later, they “moved across the bridge” to Fort Lee, where she has lived for some 60 years.
Although Ms. Greene and her husband had no children, she said, she has always been drawn to volunteer activities involving youngsters. For several years she worked with Bergen Reads, an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
“Some of the children were eager to learn, and some weren’t,” she said. “Some said, ‘Read to me,’ and I said, ‘You’re going to learn to read to me.’” Reading is one of her own favorite activities. “I read a great deal, and I belong to a book group.” She and her husband also enjoyed opera. “I have many albums of opera,” she said, adding that she also enjoys the music of Ella Fitzgerald. “I don’t like rap,” she said. “I don’t even like to look at it.” While it may have a place, that place is “not in my house.”
Ms. Greene has belonged to the National Council of Jewish Women since the early 1960s. “I had worked since I was out of college until the early 60s,” she said. “I stopped and thought, ‘I don’t know anyone. I need to meet people.’” So she joined NCJW.
Ms. Green calls the thrift shop her “home away from home. I go twice a week, Monday and Friday, for 2 l/2 hour stints. I’m the coordinator of volunteers, always making sure someone is manning the shop.
The number of NCJW volunteers is dropping,” she added. “We’re an older group.” To get volunteers, “I get on the phone and plead.”
With only a cell phone — no computer or email — “I keep telling people I’m not in the 21st century. I live in the world of today but not in this particular world. I’m from the old school, and so far I’ve been able to get along without them. People have to call me.”
On her 99th birthday, her family threw her “a big party,” she said. “Three generations.” At 4’10”, and with a variety of minor ailments, “I expect to be standing here next time,” she said. “I have good eyesight,” she added. In fact, “my eye doctor leaned over and asked if I was still driving. He told me to keep it up. I said, ‘I will as long as you keep my eyes OK.’”
“I don’t use Uber,” she continued. “Everyone always wants to pick me up. I said to my friend, ‘Have you ever driven with me and felt unsafe?’ But I don’t like driving at night. I try not to go out then because of the glare of newer cars.”
Ms. Greene said that she has seen many changes over the course of her lifetime. She doesn’t think the world is in good shape at the moment. “I’m not very happy when I read the newspaper or turn on the TV,” she said.
According to Ms. Green, she’s older than the organization she belongs to; Hannah Solomon founded NCJS 96 years ago. Her own NCJW section, Bergen County, presented her with a bouquet of flowers on her birthday. Karen Kurland of Fair Lawn, the thrift shop’s vice president, explained that the Bergen County section was created in the late 1990s with a merger between the organization’s Greater Teaneck and Mid-Bergen groups.
Ms. Kurland, who has held many positions in the organization and has known Ms. Green for 15 years, described her as a “Jill of all trades in the store, who not only recruits volunteers but offers to pick them up and bring them in. It’s what keeps her going,” she said. Calling the 99-year-old “very feisty and a no-nonsense kind of person who tells it like it is,” she said, “She’s really great with engaging new members to become volunteers and training them to work in the store. I’m impressed by her devotion.
“I wish we had five more of Estelle.”
Ms. Kurland said the Council Thrift Shop is “a thrift shop like no other. We’re not a big box but have a very boutique feel. You can find unique items. People get hooked into shopping there; they become addicted. Some come weekly, and some come daily. And volunteers like it because they get dibs on the stuff.”
The Council Thrift Shop is at 75 South Washington Avenue in Bergenfield. Proceeds from the sale of donated new or gently used clothing, accessories, and household items go directly to support people in need in the community and to advance NCJW’s advocacy programs. For more information, call 201-385-3702 or go to www.ncjwbcs.org.