Rabbi outworks, outwits Father Time

December 11, 2013 in Faith Matters, Featured Rotator by David Waters

Every Tuesday morning, Rabbi Martin Hinchin visits local hospitals to check on injured or ailing members of Temple Israel.

Most clergy make hospital visits every week, but Hinchin isn’t like most clergy.

“I’m not as young as I used to be,” Hinchin told Stacy Vogel Tuesday morning as she sat in her bed at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

“How old are you?” asked Vogel, recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured disc.

“I’m 94. I’ll be 95 next month,” said Hinchin, who visited four rooms on three floors at a pace that would test anyone over 65.

“No. Seriously?” Vogel responded. “You look great.”

Hinchin, who “retired” 25 years ago, smiled. “You should have seen me yesterday when I was younger,” he said.

The way Hinchin is going, he might be younger tomorrow.

In fact, the rabbi — who was born during World War I and ordained just after World War II — is a member of America’s fastest-growing age group, according to the National Institute on Aging.

The number of people over 90 has nearly tripled during the past three decades, reaching 1.9 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Over the next four decades, the number of people over 90 is expected to nearly quadruple. By 2050, 10 percent of people over 65 will be over 90.

What’s their secret?

“Clean living,” Hinchin said with a laugh. “When I’ve had problems, I’ve outwitted them.”

Martin Isaiah Hinchin, the child of Ukrainian immigrants, has kept his wits a long time. He was born and raised in Philadelphia in 1919. His father died when he was a teenager; his mother died when she was 87.

Hinchin served Jewish congregations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, where he was senior rabbi of Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim in Alexandria for 31 years.

“I fell in love with the people of the South,” said Hinchin, who along the way met such historic and beloved Southern figures as a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“an impressive young man”), Louisiana’s “singing governor” Jimmie Davis, and Huey Long’s “crazy” brother, former governor Earl K. Long (“he called me ‘preacher’”).

Hinchin, who moved to Memphis to be near one of his daughters, is twice a widower. His first wife of 44 years, Blossom, died in 1987, the same year he retired from the rabbinate. His second wife of 12 years, Carol, died in 2001.

“I’ve lost two lovely women who I loved dearly,” said Hinchin, who has two daughters, three stepchildren, and “a slew” of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His children want to throw him a 95th birthday party next month. He asked them to keep it low-key.

“The Lord has been good to me. He’s kept me here for some reason,” said Hinchin. “I’ve had a wonderful life. No regrets. ”

Who has time for regrets?

Hinchin, who has survived a heart attack and lung cancer in recent years, stays busy. He stays involved. He keeps moving.

In addition to his regular Tuesday hospital visits, Hinchin is a member of the Institutional Review Boards at both Methodist University Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

He plays bridge three times a week — “keeps me sharp” — and is just a few gold points from Life Master status.

He was playing golf and tennis regularly until he broke both wrists a few years ago. But even if his wrists could handle the work, his knees would object.

“When you’re my age you don’t push it,” said Hinchin, “but I’ve still got all my original parts.”

So does his brand new car.

“He calls it his ‘biblical’ car. It’s a 2013 Genesis by Hyundai,” said Rabbi Micah Greenstein, Temple Israel’s senior rabbi who is barely half Hinchin’s age.

“His only dilemma? Whether to buy the three-year warranty for $189 or the five-year warranty for $239. He bought the five-year, telling me over lunch at Backyard Burger, ‘If you do the math, it’s a very good deal.’”

It is a good deal. When that warranty expires, Hinchin will be almost 100. He’ll need a new car anyway.

9 over 90

We’ve all seen and read those listy paeans to youth with titles such as 30 under 30. We’ve decided to honor our elders with 9 over 90 — nine stories about nine local people who have done and still are doing amazing things at age 90-plus.

We need your help. Know someone over 90 who’s having a big impact on the community? Nominate him or her to be featured in our 9 over 90 presentation that begins Dec. 22.

Find and fill out the nomination form at memne.ws/9over90form.

Or e-mail nominations to me at waters@commercialappeal.com. Include your name and contact information, as well as the name, age and contact information for the person you are nominating. Also briefly explain your reasons for your nomination.

We’ll choose the nine we feature, but we’ll recognize all who are nominated appropriately, beginning in the Dec. 22 edition of The Commercial Appeal.