Abe Epstein stood out. He was the only guy in a room full of women at a Zumba dance exercise class at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall on Thursday evening.
Marilyn Silverman, one of those dancers and physical trainers whose every muscle seems to be etched in high definition, led the class through a vigorous workout to Latin and African rhythms.
Abe, an 83-year-old retired plant pathologist from Iowa State University, was there with his wife, Doris, and was gamely trying to keep up with the women, shaking his hips, raising his arms, doing his dance steps.
During a break in the exercise, someone asked how he was doing, and he responded that his heart was in his pocket.
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It takes guts for most guys to step on a dance floor.
When Abe first saw me in the room, he thought I was part of the dancing brotherhood. It may have given him encouragement to step out there. Talk about false hope.
He is a unique guy.
Not only does he Zumba, he serves as vice president of the congregation at Temple Beth El, where he will teach anyone who has the inclination to blow the shofar (ram’s horn). When he was in the U.S. Army, he served as bugler for 1st Army headquarters.
He is a member of the Bradenton Tree and Land Preservation Board.
He volunteers at Selby Gardens, where he is mentoring a master’s degree candidate who is working on discovering how fungi helps orchids feed through their primitive root system.
He is also an active member of the Freedom Village community and choir, which schedules several performances a year.
“I grew up on a farm in Connecticut,” he told me Friday as we sat in a couple of rocking chairs on his front porch.
It was a hand-to-mouth existence, where the family grew most of what it consumed. “We had no problem with disposable income, because we had none,” he said. “I grew up thinking all Jews were farmers.”
Abe didn’t retire until he was 74, and his energy still seems boundless.
He was pulling weeds at Temple Beth El one day, when he found himself being drafted to help run the congregation.
“There’s a lot to do,” he said. “I love the ethics of Judaism.”
He also enjoys Bradenton and his neighborhood. “Living here has been good,” he said.
Doris and Abe have been married since 1954. You know she must really love him, considering that he’s an associate member of a women’s group, the SaBra chapter of Hadassah, enjoys cooking, and goes dancing with her.
Take a note, guys.
Get a look at a Zumba session on Page 3B.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.