Making lives wonderful for the elderly
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Making lives wonderful for the elderly

Jewish Home celebrates its 95th anniversary

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The Jewish Home at Rockleigh

What began as a small orphanage in Jersey City in the early 20th century has turned into a major player in how the North Jersey Jewish community cares for its elderly.

The Jewish Home Family will celebrate its 95th anniversary on Oct. 24 with a gala celebration at The Rockleigh, and its supporters are reflecting on its long history.

“There are many interesting and innovative ways to make life wonderful for people who are older and whose children live far away and for whom life has changed dramatically,” said Sandra Gold, president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. “We are in the business of vibrant Jewish living. That is the motivation for everything we do. We want people to live their lives with that quote in mind, ‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.'”

‘It was the place to go’

Founded as the Hebrew Orphans Home of Hudson County in a Jersey City cottage, the organization grew until, in the 1930s, its leaders realized another Jewish population was in need. It became, in a larger building, the Hebrew Home for Orphans and Aged of Hudson County.

During the 1940s the organization added new facilities to expand nursing and custodial care. In the 1950s, the Hebrew Home and Hospital opened its doors to Bergen County residents, as well.

By the 1970s, the Jewish Home was delivering 80 meals a day through Kosher Meals on Wheels and more than 100 clients were getting served by the Jersey City site a day.

The Jewish Home at Rockleigh opened its doors in 2001 and with the opening of the Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale in 2007, community leaders decided that a central body was needed.

They created the Jewish Home Family in 2008, which today oversees the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living; the Jewish Home Assisted Living, Kaplen Family Senior Residence, in River Vale; the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey Inc. and the Jewish Home & Rehabilitation Center, in River Vale.

“It became apparent that we were sufficiently complex, that we could not have various entities operating totally autonomously,” said Ary Freilich, chairman of the Jewish Home Family. “Rather, we needed to have a common philosophy, common goals, and a common institutional vision.”

For Steven Morey Greenberg, president of the Jewish Home Foundation, supporting the Jewish Home is a family obligation. His grandparents, Mollie and Paul Weisenfeld, helped create the original Jewish Home in 1915.

By the late 1970s, Greenberg was attending Jewish Home functions and following his parents’ and grandparents’ tradition in his contributions to the Jewish Home. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s, however, when Greenberg’s mother, Rhoda, went to live at the Jewish Home in River Vale, that he fully understood the impact of the Jewish Home. During his first meeting to discuss his mother’s care, one of the staff members spoke up and said she could provide the care Greenberg’s mother needed.

“That was a reaffirming thing,” he said. “There she was saying, ‘I can take care of your mother.’ You really have personal contact.”

Personal contact has been a hallmark of the Jewish Home experience for Greenberg. Following the example of the Jewish Home Family’s president and CEO Charles Berkowitz, Greenberg walks the halls of the Jewish Home facilities, interacting with patients and staff. It’s important, he said, to let people know that the volunteer lay leaders are invested in the Jewish Home.

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Shiri Redensky, a Jewish Home at Rockleigh board member, and resident Sylvia Contente. Photos courtesy Jewish Home Foundation

“It’s my pleasure to walk … get to know the staff and the residents and the volunteers,” Greenberg said.

While growing up in Livingston at a time when there weren’t that many Jewish communal organizations, Sandra Gold knew that the home in Jersey City was the place to go for Jewish families in need.

“It was the place to go if you needed a place for an aging parent or somebody who needed that kind of intensive care,” said Gold.

When her father and grandmother needed that kind of care, both spent time at Jewish Home facilities.

“I was so grateful to have the home there when I needed it,” she said. “But if you don’t lift a finger beforehand, you can’t expect it to be there. We need everybody to get involved before the need arises.”

Because of Gold’s close relationship with her grandparents, she said, she developed a “deep affection and respect for those who are getting older.”

“A Jewish community has a responsibility to sponsor and support a quality Jewish home for the aged,” she said.

The 1970s was a decade of expansion for the Jewish Home. Its first Bergen County facility opened in River Vale, New Jersey’s first adult day-care program launched at the JHRC in Jersey City; and the Kosher Meals on Wheels program was serving 100 meals a day.

In 1991, the Meals on Wheels program came to Bergen County, and plans were soon under way to build a new facility in Bergen County, a “big moment,” Gold said, that culminated with the opening of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh in 2001.

“When we made the decision to create a facility in Bergen County, even though it was a small one, I thought that was visionary,” she said. “We saw people were moving north and we wanted to be where the needs would be.”

Freilich noted that his own parents spent the last years of their lives in a nursing home, although not the Jewish Home.

“Their circumstances were not easy on them or the rest of us,” he said. “What I witnessed was how a high-quality, caring institution can make a meaningful contribution to dignity and health and freedom from pain, and at the same time make an enormous contribution to the life of children and other family members.”

In 1999, Freilich received a call from his stockbroker, who asked him to make a contribution to the Jewish Home, which led to years of volunteer service, a way, he said, to “indirectly pay back, not to the institution that had supported my parents, but rather to the notion of caring for the elderly.”

Looking toward the future

“There are not a lot of opportunities in life to do good in a setting in which you are encouraged to be creative and to make a difference,” Freilich said. “The Jewish Home is very special in that regard.”

The economy has been rough for many non-profit agencies, but the Jewish Home has weathered the storm, according to Freilich. Still, it is in need not only of donations, but of volunteers, he said.

So many people do not think about nursing homes until their own parents or grandparents need one, Gold said. About 45 percent of the patients in the nursing home are on Medicaid, which does not reimburse the full costs of care, she continued. She pointed to several new board members in recent years who are in their 30s and 40s, and a desire within the board to keep the Jewish Home evolving with new ideas and people.

“Being a volunteer at the Jewish Home is so rewarding,” Gold said. “It really makes a difference in how you feel when you know you can make a difference for people who really need to have that in your lives. You really know you’re doing something important.”

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