“I can’t imagine my life without the Center,” says Mark Klotsman, via translator. Sitting in a chair at the busy Russian Jewish Cultural Center, Klotsman looks in his element, wearing a jaunty hat, eyes alert. He is 97 years young, and speaks almost no English, despite having lived in the United States since 1996.
The room where he sits — the Russian Jewish Cultural Center— is part of Jewish Family Service, located at the Mayerson JCC in Amberley and supported by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. In existence for two years now, it serves a lively group of about 100 Russian-speaking seniors with community, Russian-language activities, and access to translation and interpretation as well as social services. The Mayerson JCC also provides meals and transportation to many who utilize the Center.
Hero of World War II
Mark Klotsman is a genuine hero.
A Jewish soldier in a country that oppressed Jews, Klotsman joined the Soviet military at 19. After being trained for a year and a half, the Soviets — and so, Klotsman — entered World War II. He fought for five years, eventually serving as commander of an intelligence division. He and his fellow soldiers endured gangrene, starvation and many other hardships.
Afterwards, even though the Soviets gave fewer awards to Jewish soldiers, Klotsman received four of the highest military awards for personal courage and bravery in battle. He was also awarded 18 medals. His war account is recorded at the Blavatnik Archive in New York City.
Brilliant at the Game of Pool
One constant thread from his war days to current-day Cincinnati is Klotsman’s love of pool. Asked his favorite activity at the Center, he immediately says “Pool!” with a grin. He has played for a very long time; during the war is the only time he did not play. Even there, Klotsman was on the Soviet military’s top pool team.
Asked if he is a good player, he demurs, “I cannot tell about myself.” But then he cheerfully adds, “But of course I am good, I am a master!” to much laughter.
An encouraging community leader, Klotsman is known for taking old, beat-up trophies and upcycling them into awards for the Center’s pool tournaments. He’s also known for winning those tournaments or letting others — on his own team — win them.
What Klotsman Needs Today
Though he emigrated to Cincinnati in 1996, Klotsman’s English is still extremely limited. He needs help with many basic tasks. His family is loving and caring, but they cannot be there constantly. “My wife died seven years ago,” says Klotsman. “I live alone. My family, including my daughter, takes care of me. They come, they visit me, but I am still alone.”
That’s why the Center is so needed. Klotsman needs the company of friends who understand his history and his native language. He puts it simply: “I need this community.”
Klotsman’s Life is Engaged and Active
“It is good to socialize with people who came here the same way I did,” says Klotsman. “I like the library — in Russian. And over here (he points), Russian music. It’s good for those who don’t speak English. It is marvelous. At the Center we don’t need translation services. Everything is in Russian.”
He goes to the Center four days a week. It offers lectures, poetry, movies, and simple pleasures like singing and birthday celebrations. It also offers connections to essential social services, including care management for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps. Historically deprived of access to Judaism, Klotsman and others can learn about and celebrate the Jewish holidays at the Center and at the JCC.
Asked what his life would be like without the Center, Klotsman says, “I don’t know how I would feel, or what I would do, if I didn’t have the Center. People here are very kind and really care about seniors. We are supported.”
How Does Klotsman Continue to Thrive at 97?
Asked why he likes pool so much, Klotsman laughs. “It is an athletic activity!” he says. When he plays pool, he walks around the table two kilometers per game and he bends over maybe 100 times.
“If I am given the assignment to walk five kilometers a day,” he adds, “I will never do it [much laughter]. But here, playing maybe three games a day, and each two kilometers per game, makes six kilometers! And I don’t even notice that — that’s why I am 97!” The interview ends with more laughter.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is located at 8499 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, visit www.jewishcincinnati.org. The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati: Together we can do almost anything.