MILWAUKEE — They started in St. Louis, growing up together, playing all the time.
One went to Israel as a young man in 1948 and then lived a life there. The other moved to Milwaukee and lived a life here. Always separated but never apart.
The brother-and-sister 90-year-old twins celebrated their birthday last month at the Chai Point retirement community, after Israeli Aaron Silberman flew here to see his sister Miriam Orenstein for the first time in close to a decade.
It was a celebration of a lifetime of love and friendship maintained across 6,000 miles, with a birthday party at Chai Point, 1400 N. Prospect A
ve., that saw dozens of friends and family on June 18. The twins came into the world exactly 90 years beforehand, on June 18, 1926, before Israel, before World War II, and before the 1920s inventions of bubble gum, penicillin and sunglasses.
But don’t let their age fool you. Seriously, you should be so sharp.
So who is older? The answers come quickly.
“I was a gentleman. I let her out first.”
“I’m 15 minutes older,” she explained.
“Much smarter also,” he piped in.
“Of course,” she said.
Orenstein spent many years in Fox Point before moving into Chai Point several years ago. Her husband died three years ago, deteriorating in Milwaukee after surviving a stroke while visiting Israel for a grandson’s bar mitzvah.
Orenstein and Silberman grew up in a Zionist family in Missouri.
He served in the U.S. Navy, married before he was 20 and moved to Israel in 1948, soon settling into Moshav Beit Herut, where he still lives.
He served in the War for Independence and in “every war,” he said. “Every war, until the Lebanese war.”
“But I was not really a fighting soldier. I was driving a truck all the time. I remember once we were driving through a town and we saw dead people in the street, but we were behind the fighters.”
He tells a story of one time when his military truck broke down at the start of a conflict, it got dark and he decided to go to sleep. When he woke up there was an Arab boy standing there. The child offered him coffee.
For work, he also drove trucks and was an electrician. His wife died when she was 63 and he has since had a “girlfriend” for 23 years. He’s got 10 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren, 8 of whom live within walking distance of his home in Israel.
The twins have a younger sister. She lives in Beit Herut, the tiny moshav or cooperative where Silberman lives.
Orenstein was married in 1947 and had three children and volunteered quite a bit, including locally for the benefit of NA’AMAT, an Israeli social service organization. She has 3 children (now living in Israel, Watertown and Chicago), 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
The twins kept in touch with phone calls, generally at least once a month despite the expense. Orenstein and her husband, the late Larry (“Lazy,” they called him, though he was not) Orenstein, visited Israel so many times, she doesn’t have a total count.
“Your husband used to take us to the restaurant. For us, going to the restaurant was a big deal,” Silberman said to his sister. “He took us always to beautiful restaurants and we enjoyed everything, not to belittle your company.”
“That’s OK,” she said. “I enjoyed it too.”
The twins last saw each other eight or nine years ago, when “Lazy” had his stroke. Silberman really wanted to see his sister and had been planning the weeklong trip to Milwaukee for a year.
“My health has been going down and I said about a month ago that I hope this is the stage that I stay at and don’t go down further. I have a cane,” he said, noting that his daughter came along to help him travel.
The twins agreed that one of the keys to living a good life is to have a positive outlook, even as life throws you trouble.
“There’s no point to complaining because nobody wants to hear it,” Orenstein said. “I’ve always considered myself an optimistic person.”
“I had a good life, actually.”