County’s first kosher assisted-living facility prepares for occupancy
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County’s first kosher assisted-living facility prepares for occupancy

For a good ‘0 years, as she volunteered in the senior adult program at JCC on the Palisades, people have been asking Maggie Kaplen if she knew of a kosher assisted-living facility in Bergen County. She had to tell them she didn’t. That is, until now.


Front view of the new Jewish Home Assisted Living facility.

Thanks to the Kaplen Foundation, which made the lead gift, and other local philanthropists who pledged nearly $10 million to a capital campaign, the Kaplen Family Senior Residence in River Vale, the county’s first kosher assisted-living facility, will soon open its doors, affording those who can no longer function independently help with daily living in a Jewish environment.

"We are proud of the fact that we are fulfilling a need in the community," said Kaplen, who works as the foundation’s administrator alongside her husband, Bill, its president.

The Kaplens have long been involved in local communal affairs. Maggie served for three years as president of the Jewish Home and Rehabilitation Center in Rockleigh, which oversees the new residence. She’s also on the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey Endowment Committee and on the boards of the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. The foundation recently announced a lead gift to the capital campaign for the JCC on the Palisades to renovate the center.

The Kaplan Residence will offer glatt kosher communal dining under the supervision of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, on-site Shabbat services, and observance of all Jewish holidays, features expected to attract families wishing to have elderly relatives remain connected to Jewish community. At the same time, the new Jewish Home Assisted Living facility will welcome senior adults of all faiths and provide access to worship services of any religion.

The facility, on a 5 1/4 –acre site purchased by JHAL, took two years to construct. The process began in 1995, when a UJA Federation planning committee commissioned a study by a consulting firm to document the communal need for kosher assisted living. JHRC was then invited to apply to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services for the license required by any health-care facility operator in the state. Once granted, the project, with a $” million price tag, moved forward. After the conclusion of an economic feasibility assessment, JH Mack, a Teaneck contractor, and Nadaskay-Kopelson Architects in Morristown were brought on board. Bill Kaplen, who retired after selling his business in property management 10 years ago, agreed to supervise the construction as the first JHAL president. Maggie Kaplen, a former nurse, succeeds him; the board of about 15 she will lead is currently in formation, said Charles Berkowitz, executive vice president of JHRC.

Jewish Home also got tremendous cooperation from the township, enabling JHAL’s timely completion, he said. JHAL, in turn, deeded a piece of the property to River Vale for development as a public park. The non-smoking facility is environmentally sensitive, he added, having installed a high efficiency HVAC system, using only "green" cleaning products, and committed to recycling.

A dozen of the 107 units, consisting of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, have already been rented, said Berkowitz. He anticipates that the facility will be fully occupied within eight months of its opening later this month. All units are outfitted with handicapped-accessible kitchenettes and bathrooms, carpeting, window shades, and air conditioning and heating units that residents may control.

Twenty-four of the studios are in a separate, secure wing for residents with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia. According to literature provided by JHAL, rental of these include the highest level of nursing and personal care available: feeding, a special care plan for incontinence, one-on-one monitoring of participation in daily activities, and assistance in getting around the building. The wing also has its own professional staff, trained in dealing with dementia patients, and will offer programming that accommodates deficiencies in short-term memory.

Before the first residents have even moved in, a family atmosphere prevails, said Lauren Levant, executive director, who has run assisted-living facilities in New York, West Orange, and Wayne during her 18 years in the business. Levant — who supervises a staff that includes nurses, nutritionists, housekeepers, recreational supervisors, and a chef she calls a "culinary perfectionist" — observed, "In the short time we’ve all been together, we already feel a strong bond. Families are picking up on that when they come to tour, and the hope is that the staff will become a part of the residents’ extended family. Staff cohesion is what really matters, more than any other factor in achieving resident satisfaction." Noting that some members of the staff know each other from past work experience while others are coming in fresh, Levant praised their team ethic as "a collaboration of wealth of experience in the health-care industry."

Supplementing the full-time staff, Levant plans to bring in recreational specialists to offer age-appropriate classes in physical fitness. There is a fully equipped gym on the premises, as well as a theater that Berkowitz said will feature regular entertainment.

Berkowitz is looking forward to cultivating an active volunteer corps at JHAL, similar to the one in place at the Rockleigh residence. There, he said, "there are currently in excess of 100 volunteers a week who come in to participate in activities and enhance the quality of life of the residents."

The community is invited to a dedication of the Kaplen Residence, located at 685 Westwood Ave. in the township, on Sunday, May ‘0. Ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. featuring remarks by Bill Kaplen; Berkowitz; River Vale Mayor Joseph Blundo; and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg. Rabbi Simon Feld, chaplain at the Jewish Home, will preside over a chanukat ha’bayit, the blessing that accompanies the affixing of a mezuzah. Refreshments and tours will be offered from noon to ‘ p.m.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the Kaplen Residence should call Levant at ’01-666-‘370.

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