Jewish Home’s makeover: yoga at 3, facials at 4

After strolling down the hall from your room for breakfast, you duck into the art studio to work on your latest ceramics project. Then you head down to the club room for a yoga class.
You have lunch, then sit in a shaded outdoor courtyard, listening to the sound of a nearby fountain and chatting with a friend. The two of you step into the salon for facials and hair styling before heading to the dining room, where you select from a choice of dinner entrees.
Oh, and by the way, you’re 84-years-old and you live in a skilled-nursing facility.

While this may not sound like life in a nursing home, it could be a typical day at the Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center, which will be dedicated Oct. 29 as the newest facility at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda. The $58.5 million, 249-bed center, the largest building in the home’s nearly 100-year history, is designed to provide emotional and spiritual, as well as physical, well-being to its residents.

“There are few, if any, skilled-nursing facilities that truly foster healthy living,” said Jewish Home for the Aging President and CEO Molly Forrest. “We firmly believe in investing in healthy living programs and facilities that reinforce life and are focused on quality living each day.”
Located at the corner of Tampa Avenue and Sherman Way, at the home’s Grancell Village Campus, the center includes three interconnected buildings. Two of them — the Hazan Pavilion and the LaKretz-Black Tower — are residential structures, while the Brandman Research Institute houses an in-patient acute psychiatric-care unit, research offices, a computer center/library, art studio and fitness room.

The center’s new acute in-patient psychiatric-care unit was especially needed given the psychological issues faced by many seniors, Forrest said. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, people older than 65 have the highest rates of suicide of any age group, and men account for 84 percent of those suicides. Forrest notes that many of the Home’s residents, whose average age is 84, have outlived spouses, siblings, friends and sometimes their children. In addition, more than 50 of the home’s residents are Holocaust survivors, who often have particular psychological issues.
The Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center will provide a new home for 114 of the 350 individuals currently on the home’s waiting list for skilled-nursing care. In addition, 125 residents currently living in an outmoded, 50-year-old building at the Home’s nearby Eisenberg Village Campus will be transferred to the new facility. The remaining 10 beds are in the psychiatric unit.

Featuring small, intimate settings, each of the building’s five floors are divided into three donor-designated “neighborhoods” (among them, for example, Boyle Heights and Chicago) each delineated by its own color scheme and artwork. Each floor has three dining rooms — the main dining room, a smaller room for those who cannot feed themselves, and a medium-size “transitional” one for residents who are relearning feeding skills — and a family visiting room.
In addition, the floors are equipped with their own computer room/library, with a reading area, cable television, computer and phone for communal use. A “club room” on every floor offers fitness classes such as Tai Chi and stretching, while the creative studio, staffed 12 hours daily, enables residents to engage in painting, woodworking and other crafts.
“We want to give residents the opportunity to improve their lives and build on their skills,” Forrest said.
With decor more suggestive of a hotel than a skilled-nursing facility, carpeting takes the place of linoleum in hallways and resident rooms. Birch bookcases and armoires grace the interior of each room, while outside a mounted “memory box” displays personal photos and memorabilia.
Residents, visitors and staff can also patronize Gerald’s Deli, a pareve eatery featuring soups and sandwiches. And then there’s Maxi’s, a salon offering hair cutting, coloring and styling, makeup, facials, waxing and shaves.

Forrest said that the new facilities also will enable the home to hold more community programs. Brawerman Terrace, located on the roof, will be the site of future holiday gatherings, garden parties and other events, while the computer center will host classes open to the public.
The Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center is the second major project of a $72 million campaign launched in 1999 to build new facilities and upgrade existing ones. The first project was the Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center for patients with dementia, which was dedicated in 2002. Next year, the home plans to begin construction of Fountainview at Eisenberg Village, a 108-unit, upscale independent-living facility. Plans also call for establishing a facility on the Westside, and potential locations are currently being considered.

Let’s confront, I mean, let’s talk

Men will do anything — and I mean anything, from changing their phones, emails and even primary residences, to joining the army during wartime — rather than
confront a woman. By “confront,” I mean, “talk directly to.” They just don’t like it.  

Make Resolutions That Will Stick

"We have spoken slander; we have acted presumptuously; we have practiced deceit."

Each year we beat our chest and resolve to change. And each year, we make promises to ourselves: I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to stop gossiping. I’m going to learn to play the piano.

Yet long before Chanukah rolls around, the resolve has dissipated. With all our good intentions, we never quite manage to change.

"Unless you hit a crisis … most people don’t change their lives," psychotherapist Yona Kollin said. Her husband, Gilbert Kollin, rabbi emeritus of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, said that while the High Holidays provide a helpful mechanism for making positive changes in our lives, most congregants who attend services "aren’t necessarily there for resolutions."

For those truly committed to making changes, he said, the High Holidays can facilitate that process as they are designed to take us through a process of self-assessment.

"You ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do in the year ahead better than in the year prior?’ It’s like a business plan," Gilbert Kollin said. "Imagine you’re in bankruptcy court. You’re filing a moral Chapter 11 and saying to God, ‘This business is bust. But give me a year.’ And God says, ‘Show me a plan.’"

Spiritual preparation for the High Holidays actually begins a month prior to Rosh Hashanah, during the month of Elul. During that time, we are encouraged to take stock of the past year, pinpointing our strengths and weaknesses, examining the impact of our deeds and clarifying our goals. Teshuva (returning to the desirable path) involves three steps: Regretting our misdeeds, confessing them and committing not to repeat them.

It’s not necessarily an easy process, but as Yona Kollin notes, real change requires effort. "In cognitive therapy, you think about what you want to do and practice it over and over until it becomes automatic," she said. "It won’t happen without practice."

"It’s what Heschel called ‘a leap of action.’ You become what you do," her husband added. The High Holidays "hopefully give an opportunity to focus on whether your actions represent your thoughts," he said. "If you find dissonance, you have to determine what you want to do and what actions you need to take in order to get there." Having the thoughts without taking the actions, he said, will only lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

Both Jewish practice and psychological theory prescribe similar formulas for making change: Identify the goal, identify the steps needed to reach the goal and put your intentions into action. Repeat as necessary. Make goals specific, and focus on just a few.

But why even bother trying to change the very habits that we already know we’ll be seeking forgiveness for next year? After all, the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book) lists a whole host of sins we’re destined to commit.

"God doesn’t expect us to be perfect," Gilbert Kollin said. "God has the role of judge, but also the role of parent … who might not demand an ‘A’ so much as an honest effort," he said. "We know we’re not going to be perfect, but the question is: Can we do better?"

Life With A Terror Twist

I was drinking a martini on the terrace of the King David Hotel when I started counting sirens. An ultra-Orthodox social worker had told me earlier in the week that that is what people often do here, count sirens. One siren is probably a heart attack. Two might be a fire. If you hear three, you had best turn on the news.

On Tuesday afternoon, a young man who ran a cafe on a crowded downtown street told me that he was just "waiting for the bang." When the day’s first human bomb finally exploded close to 6 p.m. at a bus stop near Tel Aviv, one could feel a sense of relief intertwined with the sadness. It is difficult not to feel grateful when the bombs blow elsewhere. And the uncertainty of where and what time the strike will come is sometimes as unbearable as the news of the event itself. Many Israelis are embarrassed to find themselves just waiting for the inevitable explosion just so they can resume their normal daily routine.

After a major earthquake, Angelenos have been known to funnel their anxiety into sex. In the wake of Sept. 11, alcohol consumption shot up all over America. Here, the stress of imminent terrorism has become ritualized. Three years into the current intifada, Israelis have become accustomed to checking two forecasts every morning: one for weather, the other for terror. There had been more than 40 terror alerts last Tuesday when two suicide bombers killed 15 people. By the afternoon, there was a rumor circulating that four separate terrorists were on their way.

Tension. Release. Tension. Release. Israelis cannot commemorate one single day a year like Sept. 11., Aug. 19, May 27, Sept. 9, etc., etc. The dates, places, bus lines, the total dead — they all begin to blur.

It is easy to understand why people are so tired here. Eager to unload their burden, Israelis talk incessantly about chance and near misses. "I was in that cafe just the other day," they’ll say. Fewer and fewer city dwellers are willing to play the odds and frequent their favorite restaurants. Bus riders are either brave souls or too poor to buy a car. With tourism nearly extinct, video stores are among the few businesses that are thriving. Cell phones have become more indispensable than ever. On Tuesday night, as I walked down the hill in the direction of the day’s second attack, I noticed that nearly everyone on the street was clinging to one; checking up on loved ones or listening to the latest news.

Fixated on the present, most Israelis I spoke to choose not to look too far into the future. They refuse to consider what it would be like to live like this for many more years. Too busy responding to everyday crises, two trauma psychologists I interviewed would not even speculate about the long-term psychological and emotional effects of living with this form of terror. No one would answer my inquiry as to whether rates of drinking, domestic violence or street crime have gone up or down. Instead, many Israelis — from writers and artists to social scientists and cab drivers — recall the Jewish past when they explain how they cope with the present. "Anxiety is the engine of this country," writer Igal Sarna told me. "Millions of Jews came to Israel having survived all kinds of catastrophes."

But with anger at the Palestinians mounting, others worry that Israeli society is betraying its roots and becoming too hard and desensitized for its own good.

Novelist Orly Castel-Bloom was the only person I met who imagined a future of never-ending suicide bombings. "How do you keep on smiling?" she said. Still, she misses her country deeply whenever she travels abroad. "I think I am addicted," she confessed.

To the surprise of many, a recent opinion survey found that a sizable majority of Israelis say they are satisfied with life in this country.

It turns out that Tuesday night’s bombing occurred less than 400 yards from my room at the Inbal Hotel. Like everyone else nearby, I felt anxious, confused and had troubled sleeping. The next morning I visited the bombing site, which resembled a movie set more than a killing field. Workers had already scrubbed the floor, hauled away debris and were busy putting up wooden panels to cover shattered windows. Just two doors away, in an outdoor cafe, I saw three middle-aged women sitting in the sun, sharing breakfast and laughing. Except for a handful of spectators, people were going about their day as if nothing had happened.

My last meeting on Wednesday had been scheduled at a popular restaurant in central Tel Aviv. Like so many others here, I told myself that I was more likely to get hit by a car — particularly by an Israeli driver — than I was to be a victim of the next bomb attack. The food was tasteless, greasy and more than a little overpriced. But that didn’t bother me. I was just relieved that I had been seated at a table near the back at a seat facing the front door.

Gregory Rodriguez is a Los Angeles-based senior fellow at the New America Foundation.