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16 Over 61: Meet Barbara Finch

This profile appears as part of “16 Over 61,” a collaboration between the Forward and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s Wechsler Center for Modern Aging.

Barbara Finch, 83, found a passion for social justice in 2005, and decided to spread it to others — within her St. Louis, Mo., community and beyond.

Barbara Finch

Image by Barbara Finch

So she founded Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, an organization that now includes more than 500 members, and works toward meaningful change on a slew of the issues that dominate the headlines. Their approach emphasizes envisioning a better world while instigating the pragmatic changes needed to build it.

“One of Women’s Voices’ most successful campaigns is ‘Lock it for Love,’ started by Barbara and others after the Sandy Hook massacre,” wrote Batya Abramson-Goldstein, who nominated Finch for “16 Over 61.” “Women’s Voices hands out gun locks at health fairs and community and school events, focusing on zip codes where children are at greatest risk. Women’s Voices demonstrates how to use the locks and gives other safety instructions.”

Other issues close to Finch’s heart include climate change, affordable health care, racial justice and, fittingly, aging.

Finch, a member of the inaugural cohort of “16 Over 61” honorees, takes pleasure in the fight for progress, as well as in the finer things in life: flowers, classical music and a good cup of coffee, to start.

Describe your ideal birthday celebration.

I had my ideal birthday celebration when I turned 60 years old. My husband planned a birthday dinner, which was mostly a surprise, at the Missouri Botanical Garden. There was a string quartet, wonderful food and family and good friends.

16 over 61

The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and the Forward present 16 over 61. Courtesy of Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and The Forward

You wake up on a beautiful Sunday morning with an unplanned day ahead of you, and no responsibilities. How do you choose to spend it?

Breakfast with my husband, with a meal of pancakes, bacon and coffee. The Sunday New York Times, a Pilates class, a light dinner out and a performance by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

What makes you smile, no matter what?

Babies and puppies.

When you get good news, who is the first person you tell, and why?

My husband, because we live together and share most everything.

What’s your earliest Jewish memory?

I am a Jew by choice, so I didn’t start making Jewish memories until I was 56 years old. I can tell you that my first Jewish “ah ha!” moment occurred when I was taking an Introduction to Judaism class. Somewhere around the third session, the discussion turned to Jewish ethics and values, and all of a sudden I realized: “Finally! This is what I’ve been looking for.”

What’s one thing you absolutely cannot live without?

A daily newspaper.

How do you feel you’ve changed over the years? What ideas have been most meaningful to you as you’ve traveled through life?

I’ve changed greatly during the past two decades. After years of raising my family and working as a public relations practitioner and going to school and taking classes, I realized that everything I have, and everything I have achieved, has come to me as a result of privilege. White privilege, economic privilege, educational privilege, good health privilege. The concept of tikkun olam gave me a framework to re-direct my energy, and together with three friends I co-founded Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice.

Has your Judaism informed how you approach the process of aging? If so, how?

I like to think that Judaism informs my approach to almost everything, with the concept of tikkun olam at the heart of everything.

What does the idea of honoring and celebrating aging mean to you?

I am fortunate to live in an independent living retirement community, so it is easy to celebrate aging with my fellow residents almost every day. Sometimes I find “communal living”difficult, but then I try to focus on the three precepts of living that I think are inspired by Judaism: honor one another, do acts of kindness and make peace. My hope is that these precepts can extend beyond the walls of my retirement community and inform the way we all walk in the world.

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