JSL brings Jewish life to seniors at non-Jewish facilities
Esther Allweiss Ingber
When choosing a residence for their golden years, many Jewish seniors prefer a Jewish Senior Life (JSL) facility.
JSL is the communal agency serving the local Jewish senior population. Independent apartments and assisted living facilities under the JSL auspices are on the Eugene & Marcia Applebaum Jewish Community Campus in West Bloomfield and A. Alfred Taubman Jewish Community Campus in Oak Park.
A Jewish way of living prevails on both campuses with kosher meals and observance of Jewish holidays. Residents experience Jewish-style entertainment and culture.
But what about other elderly Jews in Metro Detroit? Those not residing in “Jewish” facilities, for a variety of reasons, still may want to feel part of the Jewish community.
They are not forgotten.
The 20-year-old Jewish Community Chaplaincy and Outreach Program of Jewish Senior Life is familiar to senior facilities throughout the tri-county area.
The program brings “a little ‘Yiddishkeit’ to older Jewish adults living outside of JSL residential communities,” said Fran Victor, JSL chief development officer.
As people age, “their connection to faith and tradition often grows stronger,” Victor said. The chaplaincy program “touches deep roots in the hearts of older adults in the Jewish community, bringing them comfort and solace in their later years.”
According to Victor, JSL Community Chaplain Rabbi Dovid Polter and Community Outreach Coordinator Joanne Kristal made 1,333 visits last year, reaching 3,521 individuals (including those at group programs).
Polter, assisted by a cadre of JSL volunteer “parachaplains,” performed a total of 259 religious services last year.
Kristal’s work takes several forms.
“There are many seniors who do not have many family or friends, so I try and find a friendly visitor for them,” she said. “I have a couple of singing groups/volunteers, and we go into facilities that have Jewish residents and have sing-alongs.”
Additionally, Kristal helps facilitate the delivery of more than 450 parcels to elderly seniors just before the Jewish New Year.
JSL’s travels to non-Jewish nursing homes, senior homes and assisted-living facilities can range from 45 minutes to Romeo, to just five minutes away to All Seasons of West Bloomfield.
Polter leads monthly programs at All Seasons, a non-denominational, independent senior living apartment community. On Aug. 28, he discussed “The Vital Role of Symbolism Celebrated on the Jewish High Holidays.”
“His lectures are well-loved by the Jewish and non-Jewish residents,” said Tamara Vellozzo, All Seasons director of life enrichment.
Rabbi Joseph Krakoff will be speaking at All Seasons about Yom Kippur. Itty Shemtov of The Shul in West Bloomfield leads a Torah class and blows the shofar during Rosh Hashanah.
“She’s coming to bring a sukkah on wheels during the holiday,” Vellozzo said. “Residents will go outside to visit the sukkah truck.”
Kosher food from the Soul Café in West Bloomfield satisfies observant All Seasons residents.
Polter and parachaplains conduct monthly discussions about events and holidays at The Park at Trowbridge in Southfield. Rochelle Upfal is the senior community’s executive director.
“Local Jewish day school students visit to celebrate the holidays,” Upfal said. “All residents participated in a beautiful mock seder at Passover.”
Matzah ball soup on Fridays is typical at Trowbridge, and kosher food is arranged upon request. Residents enjoy concerts at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield and Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, while the in-house entertainment might include Ben Opengeym, playing keyboard and accordion.
“Latkes are served four times during the month; challah and wine are on Fridays, and beef brisket is served multiple times each month,” said Megan Merza, executive director at American House West Bloomfield.
The residents have visited the Holocaust Memorial Center. They recently played trivia and other games with Hadassah volunteers.
Polter leads religious services twice a month at American House. A pre-Sukkot celebration will happen Oct. 4.
The rabbi puts up a mezuzah on the doorways of new Jewish residents as a welcome gift.
Merza praised Kristal for bringing volunteers to meet with Jewish residents one on one.
The impact of Jewish outreach is clear in a comment JSL received from “Jim” about Polter: “As I lie in my hospital bed, I want you to know how much you mean to me.”