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16 Over 61: Meet Bill Wurtzel

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.

Bill Wurtzel, 83, had a long and distinguished career as an advertising creative director.

Bill Wurtzel

Image by Bill Wurtzel

And in the skills he honed in that role, he found a unique gateway to making change in his community. When it comes to any kind of progress, communication is key — and Wurtzel really knows how to communicate.

He became a founding board member of the Jazz Foundation of America, and has provided pro-bono art direction and advertising help to groups including Human Rights Watch, YVote and Mount Sinai Hospital’s Transplant Living Center. His work has touched members of every age group, particularly in the Jewish community, even the youngest. He and his wife, Claire, have collaborated on a series of workshops and books — beginning with “Funny Food” — that aim to make teaching children about nutrition fun. During the pandemic, they shifted to making “Funny Food” videos.

Wurtzel, a member of the inaugural cohort of “16 Over 61” honorees, is an expert at reaching people where they are, and using that contact to make their lives better. “Bill commits countless hours to supporting efforts to ‘turn despair into hope,’” wrote Vicki Weber, who nominated him for “16 Over 61.”

Describe your ideal birthday celebration.

Something simple with my family and friends. Ideally with live jazz.

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?

Anything spontaneous with my wife, Claire.

What makes you smile, no matter what?

A good laugh, especially with my wife, kids and grandkids.

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

My wife, Claire, who really cares.

What’s your earliest Jewish memory?

Hearing my grandfather speak Yiddish.

What’s one thing you absolutely cannot live without?

Love.

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

As a professional artist and musician, I am always learning because being the best I can be is essential to me.

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

I’ve emphasized tzedakah for family and others. A Jewish sense of humor. Mentoring young people. And spending my time meaningfully.

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