Spring Celebrations

Passover:
The community celebrated Passover with a Mazah Brei Cook-off. Featured: Beth Kyman, Director of Philanthropy; Rochelle Zimmer, Wife of CEO Jay Zimmer; Tracy Blazer, Regional Director of Operations for Morrison Community Living and Andrea Campisi, Director of Marketing and Admissions.

Cinco de Mayo:
Residents also celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a variety of festivities including cultural attire, cuisine and entertainment.

Dining at Cinco de Mayo woman wearing sombrero woman wearing a party hat Celebrating Cinco de Mayo Mariachi band and woman wearing sombrero

Tri-Valley survivor recognized for Holocaust Remembrance Day

Henry Drejer endured five years in different concentration camps

Henry Drejer (bottom center) and his family take a photo with Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (bottom left) and Rabbi Raleigh Resnick (top right). (Photo courtesy Baker’s office)
 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who now lives in Danville was recognized by the state government earlier this month as part of National Holocaust Remembrance Day and Week.

Tri-Valley Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) met with Polish-born Holocaust survivor Henry Drejer and his family at his home in The Reutlinger senior living community Monday morning to present him with a plaque recognizing his life.

“It is both humbling and fitting to honor Henry Drejer as we observe Holocaust Remembrance Week,” Baker said. “Henry’s skill in tailoring and singing saved his life in the camps. We have a responsibility to learn from these stories, to share them with younger generations, and never to allow this horrible past to be repeated.”

The ceremony calls attention to the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and honors the bravery and fortitude of the victims, survivors and liberators who experienced it first-hand.

Drejer came from an Orthodox home in Poland where he sang in his synagogue’s choir — having an early talent, he sang solo pieces at the age of 6. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, German soldiers began shipping every able-bodied Jew from Drejer’s hometown of Slupca, located just outside the capitol of Warsaw, to work camps.

“From 1940 until 1945, I was in several concentration camps, and I went through hell. The reason why I survived was because I worked as a tailor, I was very very very very lucky,” Drejer said in a recorded oral history interview, published in 1989.

In 1941, Drejer was sent by cattle train to a stone quarry concentration camp called Kraków-Płaszów, when he was only 15 years old. There he worked in a tailor shop, saving him from the hard labor in the stone quarry.

“My mama saved my life because she told me I had to learn a profession,” said Drejer, who had been training to become a tailor prior to the war’s outbreak.

While in the concentration camps, Drejer, who would become a cantor later in life, sang to keep the spirits of his friends up. At one point in the camps, his singing even saved his life.

Drejer said that during a period in one camp, the Nazi soldiers in charge had decided they would kill 5,000 people a day there. While singing for his fellow prisoners, German soldiers walked up and said they had not met their daily quota. The soldiers told Drejer to continue to sing while they killed the men around him.

“They would pull him out and make him sing while they killed all around him,” Drejer’s stepdaughter Elisheva Gur-Arieh said.

Drejer was 19 when American forces liberated his camp at Mauthausen, one of the last concentration camps to be liberated by Allied forces. He said he weighed only 60 pounds and couldn’t walk.

“People got wild and crazy. They were so excited, they were overwhelmed and they kissed those soldiers and they kissed the tanks … there are not enough words to tell you about it, this was something unbelievable,” he said.

“I came out of the concentration camps with no family, everybody was dead, everybody was dead, I had nobody left,” he added.

Drejer spent a year in a displacement camp in Austria after liberation, where he acted as a leader for the survivors. Because he spoke German, in addition to Yiddish and Polish, he was able to communicate with locals as well as soldiers. This enabled him to gather large amounts of food tickets, which he used to buy whatever his people needed.

In 1948 he immigrated to New Orleans and moved to San Francisco three months later. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955.

While in San Francisco, he became the official cantor at his synagogue B’nai Emunah (children of faith), which was formally established in 1949. Most of the founding members are refugees from Nazism and survivors of the Holocaust.

“He’s a hero because he survived the unspeakable. In order to survive the unspeakable you have to have a certain state of mind and character, and Henry had that,” Gur-Arieh said.

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Week have been commemorated at the State Capitol for the past 16 years. The Assembly’s Holocaust Remembrance ceremony honors Holocaust survivors, liberators and children of survivors, while also remembering the over 6 million Jews who died there.

“Younger generations know shockingly little about not only World War II but also the Holocaust,” Baker said last week. “There are very few millennials who know or even believe that it happened … It simply is not taught the same way it used to be.”

A recent survey by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 22% of millennials have never heard, or are not sure if they have heard, about the Holocaust. The same study found that almost half (49%) of millennials cannot name one of the over 40,000 concentration camps that were established across Europe.

At the ceremony, Drejer shared his story with his family and community members, but did not want the past to take away from his enjoyment of life.

“I could tell you a lot more but I would like to do more singing and more entertaining,” said the 94-year-old, choosing to sing with his children, granddaughter and friends afterward.

To learn more about Drejer and the Holocaust, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum online.

Helen Ann Licht retrospective at Reutlinger

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A retrospective of the works of East Bay artist Helen Ann Licht will open at the Jewish Heritage Museum at the Reutlinger Community in Danville on Monday, Feb. 19.

The exhibit will focus on Licht’s colorful paintings and lithographs influenced by the Bible and Jewish themes. Her art is often inspired by trips to places such as India, Argentina, Mexico, Israel and Europe.

Licht graduated from Stanford University and later earned a degree in studio art and art history at UC Berkeley. Her work has been shown in galleries and museums such as the Magnes in Berkeley and at universities in the U.S. and Mexico. Her oil painting “Jacob and the Angel” has been featured on Visual Midrash in Israel.

The Reutlinger will host a reception with the artist in attendance from 2 to 4 p.m. on March 4, and a “Conversation with Helen Ann Licht” on April 1 at 2 p.m. “A Spiritual Journey–Helen Ann Licht Retrospective” will be on display through June 10 at 4000 Camino Tassajara, Danville. For information, call (925) 648-2800 or visit rcjl.org.

Artwork by Reutlinger residents travels to SFO and beyond in 2018

More than 100 seniors — including seven who live at the Reutlinger Community in Danville — recently celebrated their artwork with their families, caregivers, teachers and friends at the opening of an Art With Elders exhibition at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.

The 25th annual exhibit has since moved on to San Francisco International Airport, where it will run through Jan. 25 in the arrivals area of terminal 3. The exhibit is accessible to all airport visitors and there is no charge to view the paintings.

Reutlinger resident Rhoda Wasserman at the exhibit opening, with her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Joel Friedman

Reutlinger resident Rhoda Wasserman at the exhibit opening, with her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Joel Friedman

Officials from Reutlinger reported that the opening reception “was a joyful, glorious gathering” and that the exhibit will travel to different San Francisco locations during 2018. (Click here to see the paintings.)

All seven of the Reutlinger artists in the show are residents in long-term care. Betty Rothaus, who runs the Reutlinger’s award-winning “Discover the Artist Within” program, explained the benefits of seniors creating art. “Skill-building is paramount, as well as original thought,” she said, promising that “plenty of surprises await the lucky viewers” who have an opportunity to see the exhibit.

“The show also teaches that all people have creative ability,” she added, “and that although the body and mind might have real challenges, it is the spirit that has the ability to continue to learn, grow and create.”

In the opening reception at Laguna Honda Hospital’s Gerald Simon Auditorium in late October, Mark Campbell, the executive director of Art With Elders, noted, “A year of hard work learning new skills, exploring fresh creative frontiers and forming meaningful bonds among our art-making peers has again resulted in an exceptional Art With Elders annual exhibit. [It is] certainly one of, if not the largest and most accomplished presentations of elder art in the Bay Area.”

In addition, there is also an exhibit of residents’ art at the Reutlinger, a senior care living provider with several levels of care that began in 1950 as the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland. For more information on the Danville facility or its arts program, visit rcjl.org or call (925) 648-2800.

The Reutlinger Community Makes Pixie Smart Pads the Standard of Care to Monitor Incontinent Seniors for Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Pixie Scientific’s FDA-registered device aims to help senior care communities reduce hospitalizations for UTIs and improve antibiotic stewardship

NEWS PROVIDED BY

Pixie Scientific 

Oct 03, 2017, 07:54 ET

DUBLIN, Calif.Oct. 3, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — The Reutlinger Community, a premier provider of continuum of care senior living options, announced today that it has made Pixie Smart Pads, an FDA registered device for UTI monitoring, a standard of care in their community.

Reutlinger recently completed Pixie’s Early Access Program, during which incontinent residents wore the disposable Pixie pads several times per week.  Biological data from the pads was automatically available to remote medical professionals, who could then make decisions using established care pathways to reduce hospitalizations and improve antibiotic stewardship.

Care for UTIs in adults with cognitive decline is reactive in today’s care pathways.  The similarity of UTI symptoms to those of dementia, combined with the difficulty in communication, often result in delayed treatment as well as hospitalizations for sepsis, falls, and other complications.  Data from Pixie Smart Pads can help inform medical professionals to initiate follow-up care at the right time.  Pixie Smart Pads act like a canary in the coal mine, warning of potential dangers as a senior’s biology begins to change.

“We are obsessed with patient safety here at Reutlinger,” says Jay Zimmer, CEO of The Reutlinger Community.  “UTIs, falls–anything that takes away from the comfort and safety of our residents gets our full attention.  And anything that is advancing the standard of care by moving the point at which we can act on information gets the highest priority.  That’s what we believe Pixie is doing for us.”

Pixie Scientific has been developing the Smart Pads for four years.  They completed a clinical trial and FDA registration in late 2016 and have been actively commercializing the technology since.  Senior living communities, home care organizations, and nursing homes have been receptive to the new approach to keeping seniors safe and out of the hospital.  In the post-acute setting, Pixie enables providers to meet forthcoming regulatory requirements for infection surveillance and a reduction in preventable hospitalizations.

“Our experience with Reutlinger has been exceptional.  We have both learned a lot about leveraging technology to advance care.  We aren’t just waiting for UTI symptoms anymore–we can help understand each patient’s unique situation,” says Daniel Howard, Pixie’s Head of Clinical Operations and Development.  “We are excited to see the clinical engagement at Reutlinger and are pleased to help in their efforts to improve resident comfort and safety.”

The Reutlinger Community, ranked five-stars, has been a leader in adopting emerging technologies that can improve the lives of its residents. As a member of Aging 2.0, the community taps into a pipeline of innovation and integrates technologies that can work smoothly together to improve the lives of its elderly.

About Pixie Scientific
Pixie Scientific aims to connect people to better care and reduce hospitalizations with continuous health monitoring.  Using biosensor technology, combined with mobile and cloud infrastructure, Pixie is making Connected Care a reality.  Information that is available sooner for caregivers and physicians keeps residents and patients safe and out of the hospital, while also helping to improve antibiotic stewardship.

About The Reutlinger Community
Established in 1950, The Reutlinger is a non-profit senior living community that is proud to offer a true continuum of care from Independent Living, Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care and Skilled Nursing, including Short-term Rehabilitation. Located in the beautiful rolling hills of Danville, CA. The Reutlinger offers a full range of activity programming in every level of care, seven days a week, and welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds, with an emphasis on Jewish values. For more information please visit www.rjcl.org.

SOURCE Pixie Scientific

Starting the annual Torah cycle again — for the 70th, 80th, 90th time

According to tradition, the Torah has 70 faces. We reread it each year in, hoping a new face will be revealed. Its words don’t change, but we do. Who will we be this year, and which face will the Torah show us? Simchat Torah is our first opportunity in the year to begin finding out, as we read the final portion of the Torah, immediately followed by the first, and the annual cycle starts all over again.

But what happens when you’ve been round more than 70 times? How many things has the Torah been to our elders?

In search of an answer to that lofty question, I attended Simchat Torah morning services this year at The Reutlinger Community, a bright and friendly Jewish senior living facility in Danville. I came up with no answer, as I was immediately sidetracked by the personalities and proceedings.

I was joined by my friend and frequent Jew in the Pew companion, professor Rachel Gross of S.F. State Jewish studies department.

We took seats next to a woman named Doris Langer. Effusive at our mere presence, she endeared herself to us immediately. She was overflowing with fun facts about her fellow residents and amusing asides about the goings-on (some of which we heard more than once, but who’s counting). Doris is at least as inveterate a shul talker as I, both delighted and bemused by the proceedings.

At one point, during a rabbinic platitude about the Torah, Doris turned to us with a devious smirk and exaggeratedly mimed the universal gesture for “Feh!”

The service was led by Reutlinger’s Rabbi Debora Kohn, along with singer and guitarist Achi Ben Shalom, who often provides music for services at Reutlinger. Rather than meet in the Reutlinger synagogue, we met in a common space on the first floor of assisted living. (No room for dancing in the shul, Kohn told me.) There were about two dozen residents in attendance, enjoying varying states of mobility. Everyone sat in a big oval with plenty of space for dancing in the middle.

After a brief shacharit (morning service), Kohn said a few words about the fires raging to the north. “Our community has brought here into skilled nursing people who were evacuated from their nursing homes,” she said. “This is what we do as Jews; we walk the walk, instead of talking the talk.”

Kohn constantly bounced around the room, dancing with residents and orchestrating on the fly who should be given the honor of which hakafah. The hakafot are the centerpiece of Simchat Torah: seven circuits of the room holding and dancing with the Torah. Each honoree moseyed around at whatever pace they could muster, assisted by Reutlinger staffer Nonnie Fluss, whom Kohn appropriately declared “the Holy Shlepper.”

As each hakafah proceeded, Ben Shalom led synagogue classics that some might call stuffy — though I prefer to think of them as tunes that no longer get the respect they deserve. Think Mi Piel and Torah, Torah, Torah.

Most hakafot consisted of two residents and an aide gingerly and deliberately dancing their way around the oval. The aide carried the Torah on behalf of the honoree, offering each person in the circle the opportunity to kiss the Torah. Rachel and one woman’s younger relatives danced energetically in a circle a couple times.

For a section of Hebrew to be read before the start of the hakafot, Kohn came across the room to Henry Drejer, a man sitting on the other side of Doris from us.

“What?” he asked. “I want you to read this,” she said, placing before him a large-print copy of Siddur Sim Shalom. As soon as he saw the text, he lit right up. With no warning and with a voice only slightly diminished by age, he began belting it out in classic hazzanut (the melodies and performative style of old-school cantors AKA hazzans).

Henry turned out to be the star of the show. A Holocaust survivor born in prewar Germany, Henry eventually came to San Francisco, where he was for 38 years the cantor at B’nai Emunah, a congregation founded by German survivors.

Henry’s hazzanut is of a type you simply do not hear in American synagogues anymore. Over time, this type of liturgical music (and dare I say performance) has been supplanted by the sing-along work of modern composers like Shlomo Carlebach and Debbie Friedman. Our sense of nusach (the cycle of melodies and modes that are the bedrock of hazzanut), has been flattened, robbed of the regional variation it once had in Europe.

But not Henry. His delivery was from an age when one could expect subtle and not-so-subtle variations in traditional tunes from shul to shul, cantor to cantor, region to region.

Thankfully, Kohn would return the microphone to him a few more times that morning. Each time, he beamed.

“He’s great fun,” Doris told us, an ever-present twinkle in her eye. As if we couldn’t tell!

Later, during the Torah reading, Henry exclaimed “Oy vey!” when the chanting wasn’t up to snuff. (He did so somewhat louder than I imagine he intended to — or maybe not.)

Rightly so, Kohn was constantly in fear for everyone’s safety. She cares deeply for them. Mortality and aging are squeamish topics for us — to serve as a rabbi in a setting like this is brave and truly holy work.

Each time she called someone up, she would exhort everyone to have fun, but to be safe — “Don’t get up and dance unless you can do it safely!” When she called Henry up to do a hakafah, she shouted across the room at him: “Lo ratzim!” — “No running!

But Kohn also heaped praise on him. He’d only been at Reutlinger a few months, but people had clearly grown quite fond of him. “I can let him take over services and it will be even better,” she said. (And why not? I hope she is making appropriate use of Henry’s skills on a weekly basis.)

Of course, the next time she turned around, Henry was terrifying absolutely everyone by bending his knees and shimmying toward to the floor while still grasping his walker. Kohn practically had a heart attack. “I’m dancing!” Henry proclaimed with a note of exasperation.

The service concluded with Shehecheyanu, a blessing that thanks God for helping us to reach a milestone or a time of joy. “We made it!” Kohn proclaimed.

Then she announced that there would be regular Shabbat services the following morning. Doris turned to Rachel and I one more time: “Tomorrow? Ehh, no one will come.”

Teens, seniors collaborate on documentary film project

A film festival is coming to Danville and Doris Leiber, 93, is “absolutely” going.

“I’m inviting everybody I know!” she said enthusiastically. That’s because Leiber is the star of one of eight mini-documentaries about Jewish elders created by teenagers as part of the Better Together program, a collaboration between students from Contra Costa Midrasha and residents of the Reutlinger Community senior living center.

“If we don’t listen to their stories now, we might not have that chance,” program creative director Hannah Lesser said. “Time is of the essence.”

The May 21 premiere at Reutlinger is the culmination of seven months of interviewing, filming and editing, but it’s also a celebration of passing wisdom from one generation to the next.

“That’s kind of the beauty of it — you guys both work together,” said 17-year-old high school senior Molly Appleby.

A national Jewish program funded by a philanthropist, Better Together awards grants for projects that help students foster their Jewish identity through intergenerational relationships. The program always encourages young people to meet with elders, but it was Devra Aarons, director of Contra Costa Midrasha and a former television producer, who came up with the idea of creating documentaries — partly as a way to get students interested, but also to help create a real bond.

“The process is fostering the connections we were trying to create, and at the end of the day that’s what I wanted,” she said.

In order to do that, the program began last September with icebreakers, getting-to-know-you events and field trips. Then the teenagers attended a weekend intensive program at StoryCenter, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that helps organizations use storytelling as a tool for social change. There they learned the basics of story creation and editing. After that, the teens and their senior partners met monthly for two months before filming up to an hour of interview footage. The kids and the elders also did activities together, such as celebrate Shabbat and visit San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Over the months, Lesser worked with the students, helping them edit their films down to five-minute documentaries.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at first,” Appleby admitted.

But the results from all of the student efforts, according to Lesser, are fantastic.

“I think the audience will be impressed by the level of storytelling they’ll get from these teenagers,” Lesser said.

Most importantly, everyone agrees that the teenagers and elders bonded along the way.

“Our teens have really fallen in love,” Lesser said.

That was true for Appleby.

“I look up to her so much, she’s basically my best friend,” Appleby said of her Reutlinger partner, Henia Aitchison.

Reutlinger resident Leiber agreed that spending time with her young filmmaker partner, Sydney Brandeis, was a blast.

“Sydney and I had a lot of fun when we were together — at least, I did!” she said.

For 14-year-old Robbie Munoz, the connection he’s made with his partner, 86-year-old Gloria Ruth, has been deep and meaningful. Learning more about Ruth’s life has given him a new perspective on his own, he said, including teaching him how to take stressful moments a little less seriously.

If we don’t listen to their stories now, we might not have that chance.

“They have experienced everything you have, and twice over,” he said.

The students also learned something about the impermanence of life. Two elders involved in the project passed away before being interviewed, including Appleby’s original partner.

“It’s very upsetting and confusing to the teenagers,” Lesser said.

But in spite of that, the program has been successful on both ends, with Midrasha director Aarons calling it “magical,” Ruth calling it “fantastic” and Reutlinger director of programs Carol Goldman calling it a “win-win.”

Contra Costa Midrasha serves students in grades 8-12, with sessions every Wednesday night at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. The Reutlinger Community provides health care and social support in a Jewish environment to around 180 residents.

Reutlinger will host the May 21 screening, which is free with a call to the center or Contra Costa Midrasha, or online.

“This is a celebration of the process and the collaboration, honoring both the elders and the teens,” Aarons said.

It also honors the new relationships forged between the students and seniors during a joint project that taught a new generation to respect and cherish the hard-won wisdom of a life fully lived — a core Jewish value that Aarons said is hard to foster these days.

“We need to rededicate ourselves to that value,” Aarons said.

And since that is the aim of the Better Together program, by all accounts it’s been a success.

“It made me realize how important and priceless your grandparents, or anyone elder in your life, is to you — and the world,” Munoz said.

Reutlinger seeks funding for Holocaust survivors and other residents in need

For years, the Reutlinger Community has quietly assisted Holocaust survivors and residents who have simply run out of money and otherwise could not afford to stay at the senior residence.

Now, the facility’s Resident Assistance Fund itself is in need of aid.

The Reutlinger Community/Schiff Center for Life has asked rabbis at East Bay and Tri-Valley synagogues to help get the word out that the fund can no longer keep up with residents’ needs.

Declaring May 19 and 20 “Shabbat Across the East Bay,” the Danville Jewish senior living facility hopes to raise awareness of the “critical need in the community” to bolster the account. So far, six congregations have signed on.

“As residents enter the community today, they do so older, frailer, and with fewer financial resources than in the past,” Reutlinger CEO Jay Zimmer said in a letter to area rabbis. “Our excellent care has allowed residents to live longer lives, but in the process of doing so they often deplete their financial resources and require a subsidy to meet their expenses. The cost of those subsidies now approaches $1 million annually — an amount we can no longer sustain financially.”

The fund’s current endowment “just isn’t large enough” to do the job, Zimmer said.

Subsidies are “running close to $917,000 a year,” he told J. ”The goal is [to have] about $1 million a year” in the fund to cover costs, “so we don’t have to tap into the [RAF] endowment corpus” of approximately $5 million.

Resident Assistance Fund expenses nearly doubled in the 2015-16 fiscal year alone, according to the nonprofit, which began as the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland more than 60 years ago. The board has set a strategic goal of doubling the size of the fund’s endowment to ensure it serves current as well as future residents.

Sixteen residents — the majority of them Holocaust survivors — are being subsidized, Zimmer said.

A “continuum of care” facility, Reutlinger provides several living situations for its 180 residents — ranging from assisted living for fairly independent folk, “enhanced” assisted living, memory care to skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Fees are all inclusive — covering meals, housekeeping, nursing care, social services and more. Base fees range from $5,500 a month for a studio apartment in the assisted living unit to $7,500 a month in the memory care unit. At the skilled nursing care and rehabilitation center, fees start at $292 a day.

Karen Hamilton, whose mother, Renee Nosanchuk, has lived at Reutlinger for four years, is grateful for the financial aid.

“I pleaded, kind of cried, to get her in there,” she said.

Nosanchuk, 84, had been living with Hamilton and her husband in Concord. But Hamilton, who works in San Francisco, said that after her mom began losing her balance and falling, the family started looking at senior residences.

“My mom didn’t have a lot of money,” Hamilton said. “She just had a small retirement and Social Security.”

At Reutlinger, “They were kind enough to take her in at a very low rate.” Nosanchuk was placed with a roommate for the first few years and then given a studio, “which is perfect for her,” Hamilton said. “She loves it there.”

Her mother, who uses a walker to get around, takes full advantage of the many activities and especially appreciates the kosher meals, Hamilton added.

“I don’t worry about her anymore,” she said.

Another resident who receives assistance — she’s been at Reutlinger for 10 years — depleted her assets after a few years there. When that happened, “It was a struggle for us; we had to pay out of pocket for a bit,” said her daughter (who wished to remain anonymous). Had the family not received aid, she added, “I don’t know what we would have done.”

Her mother, now 100 years old and in the skilled nursing unit, is nonetheless “thriving” — going to lectures and recitals, even painting — a hobby she took up eight years ago in the art program — which “is phenomenal,” her daughter said.

“We have a really terrific community” at Reutlinger, added the daughter, who lives about 25 miles away and visits her mother about once a week, often for lunch on the patio. There’s “wonderful care” and a “wonderful rabbi,” she said. “This is a blessing.”

Debora Kohn, the full-time rabbi at Reutlinger who is coordinating Shabbat Across the East Bay, said participating synagogues have pledged to help get the word out to congregants through their newsletters. Signing on so far are Congregations Beth Chaim in Danville, Beth Emek in Pleasanton, B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek, Beth Torah in Fremont, Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro and Temple Isaiah in Lafayette.

Kohn noted that among staff, information as to who is receiving aid from the Resident Assistance Fund is kept “absolutely confidential.”

“Most of us [on staff] do not know who is getting financial assistance and who is not … It makes no difference in the care they get.”

Besides leading religious services, Kohn works with residents and their families on a full spectrum of activities — from celebrations to end-of-life matters.

“People are with us for many years,” she said. “We become like family.”

Jewish seniors join with teens to create documentary series

Two groups with seemingly little in common — one, average age 90; the other, a bunch of tweens and teens — got together for a recent Shabbat dinner and found they had a lot to talk about after all.

The Sept. 30 gathering at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville marked the first time the students, all participants in the weekly Contra Costa Midrasha, were making personal connections with the residents as part of a project with an ambitious goal: the youth will be creating films about the seniors’ lives.

“I was really impressed to see them come and want to be with the old people,” said resident Ellen Klebanoff. “And they showed such interest and excitement.”

The project is part of the “Better Together” program made possible by a grant from the New York-based Legacy Heritage Fund, an initiative that encourages students and senior citizens to develop intergenerational Jewish relationships. The nationwide program aims to help students foster their own Jewish identities while connecting them with living history, creating a space in which an oral tradition can bring people together.

“That used to be the primary way we learned,” said midrasha director Devra Aarons, a former television producer who came up with the idea of the documentaries, to be shown next spring. “I love the idea of a public sharing.”

The midrasha is bringing in Berkeley-based StoryCenter to help the young participants learn how to ask questions and think about what the answers mean. After the students have spent several months talking to the seniors, facilitators from the Berkeley nonprofit will hold an intensive session in December at a weekend retreat to help them figure out what to tell and how to tell it.

“I think it really does set our program apart from the other ‘Better Together’ projects,” said Hannah Lesser, an educator with the midrasha who will facilitate the program.

It is outside the regular scope of the midrasha, and the students who signed up for the program are getting involved in something that Aarons hopes will make a real impression in their lives, “a level of serious commitment,” she said.

Eighth-grader Alison Ennik is up for it, especially the intensive StoryCenter workshop. “I’m really interested in making films,” she said.

Ennik is one of eight students who signed up for “Better Together.” The Contra Costa Midrasha also has a regular program for Jewish students in grades 8-12, with sessions every Wednesday night at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. Reutlinger is a senior living community of around 180 that provides health care and social support in a Jewish environment.

According to Carol Goldman, director of wellness and life enrichment at Reutlinger, the first meeting went so well that residents called her to marvel. Klebanoff said she was pleasantly surprised the young people were willing to spend three hours with old people they didn’t even know.

“I thought it was absolutely wonderful, beautiful,” Klebanoff said. “I was so impressed.”

Ennik said she had fun, connecting with the residents on a common theme of Judaism but mostly just hearing about their experiences.

“We got to learn about their lives,” she said.

And that was just the beginning. Aarons and Goldman are planning several activities for the two groups in order to strengthen the bonds. Even though the festival is planned for spring, the “Better Together” grant runs for two years and Aarons is hoping this year will lead to wider involvement in the project.

“We’re really hoping it’ll bear the fruit that we’re planting,” she said.

Reutlinger Community unveils $10 million face-lift

More than 200 people attended a Sept. 18 open house marking completion of a five-year project to upgrade and enhance the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville.

The event also honored the Schiff and Polse families in recognition of their generosity that helped turn the vision of the $10 million project into a reality. “Without the extreme generosity of these two families the scope of this project could not have been achieved,” said Reutlinger CEO Jay Zimmer.

The celebration “capped 18 months of intense renovations of most of our public areas and many of our residences and clinical spaces. 73,000 square feet in all,” noted Zimmer. The senior residence provides various levels of living options and a range of services for older adults.

Following the ribbon-cutting, guests were invited to explore the grounds and visit the new art studio, fitness room, reception lobby, dining rooms and other areas.

Burton and Betty Ann Polse were enthusiastic supporters of the Reutlinger Community since its inception as the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland, and were instrumental in raising funds for the community’s move to Danville. Today, the Polse Family Pavilion stands as a testament to their lifetime passion.

The Schiff Center for Life stands as testament to the generosity of Ilse Schiff, who resided at the Reutlinger until she passed away. Her most recent gift allowed the second floor to be redesigned in a “Main Street” configuration that mimics an outdoor shopping center complete with a salon, café and gift shop.