Embracing senior moments with humor, insight


Aging — and dying — may be an inevitability, but it need not be a tragedy. Just ask octogenarian Bernard Otis, the author of “How to Prepare for Old Age (Without Taking the Fun Out of Life),” who has learned through personal experience, extensive observation and interviews that aging with dignity and joy is a choice.

In real life, an infectious grin stretches across his face, and joy radiates down to his strong and lively handshake. Although he originally started his blog, seniormomentswithbernardotis.com, and his book as a way to deal with the loss of his wife, Anna, reactions he gets from his readers of all ages have given him renewed purpose and great personal satisfaction.

“I drew the conclusion that when people weren’t prepared for death, they weren’t necessarily prepared for life, either,” he said. “They were not living their lives in a way that counted, and not aware about what was happening around them. Many people have a misconception that they will retire at 65 and that will be the end. However, the truth is that life goes on, no matter what stage of it you’re in. You need to embrace it.” 

Otis, 86, currently lives in a seniors residence in West Hills, but he is still a man about town. He maintains his blog and recently found romance with a woman visiting one of his fellow residents.

His book, put out by Incorgnito Publishing Press in May, touches on a lifetime of lessons that he has acquired. It is made up of chapters, which he playfully calls “Senior Moments,” filled with stories and observations that cover “the journey of life, the boulders in the highway and how to get around them,” according to Otis. 

It is dedicated to the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, who, Otis said, mentored him during the writing process and editing of the book and is quoted in one of the chapters. 

The concept grew out of Otis’ preparation for and coping with the loss of his wife, who died of cancer in 2012; Schulweis provided moral support for him in those days as well. The whole experience was cause for reflection for Otis.

“If you knew this was going to be the last day of your life, how would you live it?”  he asked aloud, rhetorically. “Most people don’t think about that, but how would you live it? I would get up in the morning and find somebody who needed my help. After that, I would do something I really enjoyed, and at night, I would go home to the arms of the person I love. Even if I don’t know what day will be the last day of my life, that’s how every day should be lived.” 

Otis says in the book it is easier for a person of any age to comprehend the most important truths about life when they also understand how they can be distracted by everyday “small stuff,” as well as petty arguments and conflicts that can potentially tear apart families. He also stresses the importance of starting preparation for aging as early as possible in one’s life.

“This is a major problem among seniors — the falls and the broken hips that lead to their dying, and families are oblivious or often afraid to address this,” Otis said. “Families should prepare themselves for these situations, have family discussions to prepare themselves for the eventualities of family members getting older. … Parents should explain to their children about what happens to people at different stages of life and death, and they need to know how to handle it. 

While the book project, which involved interacting with people at his residence and other senior centers over 2½ years, helped him come to terms with his wife’s passing, Otis grew to embrace the notion that he could provide a public service and create a philosophy that could serve as a manual for people of all ages and backgrounds on how to accept life as it comes — from birth to death, while fortifying one’s relationships with family and friends along the way. In other words, being adaptable, grateful and open-minded.

One idea Otis came to advocate: Never hide from death. Parents should not shield children from that fact of life, but instead teach them how to face it and explain what happens to people at different stages of their life and death. He recalls how he was bothered by the fact that his parents wouldn’t allow him to see his grandmother while she was in declining health, in the days and weeks before her passing.

“I believe the best way to [deal with aging] is to connect life and death in a way that makes sense, as a continuum between past present and future,” he said. “If people understand it, they won’t fear it.”

Otis likes to precede his personal observations and anecdotes with jokes as a way of keeping the attention of readers and lightening the mood between serious topics. One of his favorites, about dating after 60, involves three women sitting by the pool at an assisted living center. An elderly man walks by them and jumps into the pool. The first woman says, “You must be new here. I have never seen you before.” He replies, “Yes, I just got here yesterday.” The second woman asks, “Where are you from?” and he says, “I just got out of prison after 25 years.” The third woman says, “You’re single!”

Born in Detroit, Otis grew up in a traditional Jewish home and enjoyed a long career as a food service and restaurant facilities architect/designer. He continues to stay in touch with relatives throughout the country, including his first wife, who lives in an assisted living center in Dallas near their adult children. And therein lies another important life lesson, he said.

“Everybody who comes into this world has two significant assets: Awareness about what is happening around you and the ability to make friends, maintain family connections and build relationships,” Otis said. “Even with those gifts, some people forget how to use them. That loss, in turn, makes the aging process and facing mortality all the more difficult. With my book and blog, I want to remind people of how to make those skills work for them again, at any point in life.”


CORRECTION [Aug. 24, 2015]: This article originally mispelled the name of Incorgnito Publishing Press.

Scoping out the senior scene


Why take Max Izenberg’s advice on what’s going on around town? Because the retired nutritionist knows what’s good for you. 

Izenberg built her career on helping people and being well-informed, qualities she’s found useful in gathering and sharing information with an extended community of Los Angeles-area seniors through Suddenly 65, her weekly online newsletter. 

“While there are many sites for seniors, nobody is doing what I do in terms of the different kinds of information offered,” Izenberg said. “Furthermore, the senior sites I came across were written for a national audience and often heavily consist of links to other senior-oriented sites. My newsletter differs in that it is custom-designed for the local L.A. audience, so the readers have specific, accessible resources and activities at their fingertips.”

The San Fernando Valley resident’s dose of events, health tips and consumer information (such as warnings against online scams directed at seniors) is sent every Thursday by subscription to nearly 6,000 people. New subscribers coming to Suddenly65.com are greeted with a video of the energetic 70-something explaining how to sign up for a subscription for access to the latest happenings for seniors, especially in the area between Burbank and Thousand Oaks.

“My mantra is that we cannot help getting older, but we don’t have to be ‘old,’ ” Izenberg said as she contemplated her second career, launched in February 2012 with her first online newsletter. It was an instant success, winning the Los Angeles Daily News’ Readers’ Choice award two years running for favorite boomer/senior newsletter.

“If you’re sitting at home doing nothing, you are going to get old,” Izenberg continued. “Without any social interaction, the experience of aging can be terrible. Boomers and seniors want to get out because they are vital, healthy and naturally curious about life. Sometimes, all they need to do is find out what’s happening in their backyard. What my newsletter does is help them do just that when planning ahead for the weekend or the following week.”

The New Jersey native raised four children in the Valley and spent a dozen years in Las Vegas with her husband of 58 years, Jerry, before returning to the area and finding her social landscape drastically changed. A number of old friends had died or moved away. Although it seemed like a simple Internet search should help the active couple connect with new friends and find enlightening activities, they found the Web remarkably lacking in “Meet Up”-type groups and social networking for people over 50.

“When I Googled ‘social resources for seniors,’ I found nursing homes,” Izenberg recalled, surprise still resonating in her voice. “When I had gotten in touch with friends still living in the area, they told me they were also having a hard time finding interesting things to do. As returning long-term Los Angeles residents, we knew there had to be things out there for us.”

After pondering the situation for two months, Izenberg came up with the idea of starting a newsletter for boomers and seniors filled with leads to events and useful information. Since then, she’s found that the process of putting the letter together, with support and feedback from Jerry and her readers, keeps her “feeling as if I’m still in my 20s.” 

Although she regularly gets tips from readers, she also exhaustively researches everything going on in communities throughout Los Angeles, from music performances to free movie screenings, live theater, dancing clubs and classes, and various activities staged at libraries, community centers and other public venues. She also networks with neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce and fellow members of JNET, a Jewish professional networking organization, to uncover leads. Izenberg even does some in-the-field research.

“When I first started the newsletter, I got a tip about the San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra having something going on at Canoga Park Bowl [a bowling alley now known as Winnetka Bowl],” she said. “It sounded strange at first, so I told my husband we should check it out before putting it in the newsletter. It turned out to be one of the most fun evenings we ever had. James Domine, a music professor at Pierce College and San Fernando Valley Symphony Orchestra’s music director, had a band performing at Canoga Park Bowl. We went, and the entire audience was people our age. This is exactly the kind of thing my readers are looking for.”

Her other criteria for inclusion in Suddenly 65 are that events be open to the whole public — in other words, grandchildren — and have low or no cost of admission. She recently added a list of museums in greater Los Angeles with free admission; some theaters and venues even offer Suddenly 65 readers discounts on tickets and admission.

Izenberg’s goal is to help subscribers make the most of what’s going on in their community.

“My readers are learning, for example, that a library is more than just a place to [borrow] a book, through the wonderful activities scheduled, such as lectures, computer-education classes and live performances,” she said.

“Suddenly65.com is a valuable tool for our readers, not just for a better daily life, but also for situations like finding memorable places to take friends and family coming into town. The sky is the limit for my readers — all we need to do is put it in front of them.” 

A Celebration of Dad


I called my 94-year-old father in Ohio on July 9. I told him how much I loved him, that he was the most wonderful father ever, that I would miss him, and that it was OK for him to let go.

All I could hear was his heavy breathing as the hospice nurse held the phone to his ear.

He died a few hours later.

During our last visit a few months ago, my father had said he wanted to get on with his death. He was feeling useless. He could no longer help people, which was his life’s purpose. And he was tired. I think Dad’s basic optimism and stubbornness combined to make him hang onto life a little longer. But he finally got his wish to move on.

I’m glad for him, and sad for me.

Losing a parent, even at my mature middle age, is a huge loss. My Daddy, my hero, my cheerleader, my advisor, my first love … is gone.

Even if it was anticipated, it’s a shock. How did this happen? Wait! I am not ready!

Since Dad died, I sometimes wake up crying, realizing that he’s really gone. I cry myself out, and then I remember a camping trip in the rain with Dad, and I have to smile. Then I remember I can’t call him about a new idea I have for a project, and I start to cry. Then I feel grateful, recalling how he encouraged me to be adventurous.

This transition is exhausting.

Yesterday, my friend Jeanie Cohen, a marriage and family therapist, said, “Grief is such an individual journey. One can feel fine one minute, and the next minute you’re sobbing and aching from the loss. Grieving involves acknowledging and feeling the loss, and also remembering the things you love and appreciate about your dad.”

To help me do both, I’ve been listening to my father.

When I became an oral historian 25 years ago, Dad was my first practice interview. Then, after his stroke at 83, I started recording him every time I visited. I have hours of conversations with him: about his parents and the values they taught him, about my love life, about his love life, about his pranks in high school, about his incredible experiences in India during World War II, about adopting my sister when she was a newborn, about why he divorced my mother, about the time his own mother’s car rolled into the produce section of the A & P, about his belief that people should love each other more, about how he hated being so dependent on others, and about how my sister and I are his best friends and how much he loves us.

My father was someone I could always talk with about anything. Sometimes his unsolicited advice was irritating, but his wisdom was intact right up to the last few months of his life. I wish I could talk with him now, about the other major transition in my life: My son is going 2,985 miles away, to study at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.

My father dies, and my son is leaving home. Oy.

I’m flying to Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up, on Sept. 4. I’m meeting my sister Sue there. I’ll cry a bit about saying goodbye to my son and Sue will hug me. We’ll both cry about losing our father and we’ll hug some more.

Then we’ll have three days to visit all the places we associate with Dad.

We’ll hike in the park where he taught us to catch crayfish and climb cliffs; we’ll wander by Grandma’s apartment, where we had lunch every Sunday; we’ll go to the golf course where we learned to ski and the tennis court where Dad kept shouting at us, “Bend your knees!” And, we’ll drive by Hampshire Road, where I dropped the birthday cake that Sue and I had so lovingly baked for Dad.

Undoubtedly, we will no longer find the penny candy store we enthusiastically patronized, or Mawby’s, where they made the best unhealthy hamburgers, or the Cedar Lee Movie Theatre, where we spent every Saturday afternoon, sometimes sitting through the same movie twice if we liked it.

Our simple plan is to enjoy each other’s company while recalling and celebrating Dad’s life and our times with him. We’ll probably cry and laugh a lot.

And we’ll congratulate each other for having had such a loving, fun, devoted and fabulous father.

Dad and I lived an airplane trip apart for 40 years, so besides occasional visits, our primary contact was through Ma Bell. Dad always said to me, “No matter how far away you are, we’re always in each other’s hearts and we can feel the love. Do you feel it? Can you feel me hugging you right now?” And I did.

I still do.


Ellie Kahn is a licensed psychotherapist and oral historian. For information about her family and organizational history work, visit livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.

At 60 for Zikna


The High Holy Day liturgy includes the poignant plea: “Do not cast me off b’eyt zikna,” which is usually translated as “when I get old.” It is a fear many of us have, but are often afraid to articulate. We live in a youth-intoxicated culture where older people are sometimes invisible.

I am concerned that this is also the case in the Jewish community. When the Jewish community speaks about ensuring the Jewish future, it focuses primarily on young people in their 20s and 30s. But surely, the Jewish future demands the active engagement of older people as well—people with the experience, perspective and resources needed to move our community forward.

Who are these older people? Pirke Avot says: “At 60 for zikna.” I’m 62. That makes me one of them, a baby boomer who has become … what? Old? An elder? A senior? I’m not even sure what to call myself, but I know there are a lot of others like me.

Approximately 29 percent of Jews in the United States are between 50 and 64, according to a recent study. In 2030, baby boomers will be between 66 and 84, representing 20 percent of the U.S. population and an even greater percentage of the Jewish population. The Jewish community can ill afford to cast us off. Rather, it should be facilitating a conversation on how to engage us or, more to the point, keep us engaged.

At Temple Emanuel, we have begun a “listening campaign” on growing older, modeled after the congregationally based community organizing that we have been doing over the years with OneLA. The goal of a listening campaign is not to leap to solutions or to design programs but, rather, simply to listen to what people are saying about matters that concern them. Over many conversations, common issues will emerge that we can work on together. The responses so far have been moving and illuminating.

Here are some of the responses:

  • “I worry about invisibility—sometimes I feel that my viewpoint is ignored at work or that I am simply not seen by a cyclist when I am walking on campus.”
  • “I feel fear. I have a real sense of the time going by; my awareness that it is not endless is profound.”
  • “I appreciate living in the moment. Time is speeding by. I am amazed at how vital I feel.”
  • “I serve on a number of boards. I love what I do. I don’t spend my time now raising kids. I know how to seize the moment.”
  • “How much time do I have left? I don’t want to think about the future and inevitable decline. But still, so much of my time is taken up with overseeing the care of my really old mother. We never imagined she would live this long or that caring for her would take all of her resources and much of ours.”
  • “I could have 40 years ahead of me. It used to be that at 50 you had 10 years of life to look forward to. Now, you need to plan.”
  • “The biggest surprises are the capacity to reinvent, the resiliency. I have aspirations of communicating this knowledge to people.”
  • “I am still working in the trenches, but now with much younger people. I am competing with them. I do the same thing they do. They think I’m just some guy with white hair, but eventually they see that I know more than they do. I’m still who I always was. I don’t suffer from the illusion that young people love us. They don’t.”
  • “What weighs on my mind is that I don’t feel like I’ve left this world a better place than it was when I came into it … that I haven’t done what I need to do to make things better.”
  • “When I was younger, I had mentors who helped me succeed as a professional. I need mentors to teach me about how to grow old.”

What does the Jewish community have to offer these thoughtful people? What gifts of talent, insight and resources can these people bring to the community? How can we create opportunities for mentoring across generations? What resources does Jewish tradition offer for this stage of life? And how might thinking about all of this together help us leave this world a better place than it was when we came into it?

It is time to deepen and expand the conversation. I encourage other congregations and organizations to develop their own listening campaigns. And I invite them to join with us in a network and a larger conversation.

Again, Pirke Avot: “At 60 for zikna.” A commentary on this text reads “zikna” as an acronym for ze s’koneh chochma, “one who has acquired wisdom.”

Let’s listen to what this wisdom is telling us and embrace it as a community. Then none of us need be afraid of being cast out in our old age.


Laura Geller is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (tebh.org).

Longer life, programs, care make Jewish Home’s wait list daunting


As bombs dropped over Germany, aerial photographer Arthur Oxenberg would lean out of a B-17 Flying Fortress with his camera to snap a photograph. His photos were a way the U.S. Army Air Forces could tell whether bombs hit their targets.

Based in Italy, Oxenberg flew 62 combat missions with the 301st Bombardment Group, 419th Squadron, bombing factories and military installations in Germany, Hungary and Austria. Seventy years later, he still has the log that recorded those missions.

On Nov. 4, 1944, Oxenberg wrote, “I hope that today’s mission was the ‘rough’ one. I don’t like to think of having another one like it. It was one of those days. Everything happened. … Twice I passed out for short periods because of lack of oxygen.”

“His big fear was that he would die over some country where no one would know him,” said Jan Oxenberg, his daughter. “When he came back to the United States after his final mission, he literally bent down and kissed the ground.”

After the war, he made a name for himself starting several of his own businesses. But today, Oxenberg, who turns 90 on Sept. 2, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and requires 24-hour care.

Like many people his age, Oxenberg is seeking admittance to the only dedicated Jewish elderly assistance facility in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Jewish Home, in Reseda, is the largest multilevel senior living facility in the Western United States. But it is also the smallest Jewish senior living facility, based on Los Angeles’ per capita Jewish population, according to Jewish Home CEO and President Molly Forrest. The Jewish Home caters to the needs of more than 1,900 in-residence seniors each year, providing services that include independent living accommodations, residential care, skilled nursing care, short-term rehabilitative care, acute psychiatric care, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care.

Arthur Oxenberg as a photographer during World War II. Photo courtesy of Jan Oxenberg

Consequently, the Jewish Home has a wait list of up to two years. On any given day, there are about 400 people on the list, and only 100 to 200 of those are actually admitted each year, according to Forrest.

“Our promise to provide for the comprehensive needs of our residents means that current residents who require a change in the level of their care are the first in line for any newly available space at the Home—before new applicants,” she said. “While the Home does have a wait list, each person is considered on a case-by-case basis. We make accommodations when we can, but we can’t simply have one person move ahead of others on the wait list.”

Jan Oxenberg, a television writer, contacted the Jewish Home in February when she moved her father from Florida to Los Angeles, where two of his four children reside. Since then, Arthur Oxenberg has lived in private assisted living facilities and a VA-contracted nursing home.

“It is so painful to see him like this. He grabs his head and says, ‘Make me real again!’ ” Jan said. “The amazing thing is that he knows who we are. He is still very talkative, friendly and social.”

Because of his condition, Jan sought to admit her father to the Jewish Home’s Auerbach Geriatric Psychiatry Unit program. Like all other applicants, Oxenberg was faced with the daunting wait list.

“We try to be responsive, but it’s hard when we are 98 percent filled at all times,” Forrest said.

The first priority for new admissions is those in unsafe living conditions.

“Preference may also be given to those who can benefit from the Home’s unique programs and services, including survivors of traumatic life events such as the Holocaust, violent crime or elder abuse,” she said.

“In reviewing applications, we do take hardships into consideration. However, each person is an individual who is considered on his or her particular and unique basis. We do give preference to those who have served the Jewish Home and Jewish community, including employees, volunteers, rabbis and Jewish communal workers,” Forrest said. “Making a donation is never a condition of admission to the Jewish Home. In fact, the vast majority of our residents are financially needy.”

For dementia care with skilled nursing, someone can be on the wait list for six months to two years.

This lengthy wait list is partially because the average age of Jewish Home residents is more than seven years above the national average and the average length of stay is more than eight years, compared with two to three years in similar settings, according to Forrest.

“Because of the quality of our home, we like to say that we add life to years and years to life,” she said. “Our statistics are unlike any other programs. We ask people why they want to come here. Half of the applicants on the wait list say because of the quality of our medical services, and the other half say that they are lonely and want to make friends.”

Reasons like this are why the Oxenbergs and other families are drawn to the Jewish Home.

Jan Oxenberg said that it’s important for her father to be able to socialize, something she knows the Jewish Home will provide. And so, Jan, and hundreds of other families, endure the wait in hopes of securing a spot in one of the Jewish Home’s facilities.

“One of the great things about the Jewish Home is that they honor our people,” Jan said. “It is very important for him to be in a place where he can be around people and socialize.”

Giving as a fountain of youth


Al Azus has found his fountain of youth, and he’s not keeping it a secret. In fact, the 92-year-old philanthropist recently published a memoir whose title all but gives his formula away: “Live Longer by Giving.”

Azus has donated time, energy and millions of dollars from his successful envelope-printing company to Los Angeles social services agencies including Vista Del Mar, the Hollenbeck Youth Center and the Los Angeles Jewish Home. With Hedi Azus, his wife, he funded a children’s recovery room, family waiting room and pediatric assessment program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He has spent untold hours playing games and his clarinet with the children of Home-SAFE, a division of Vista Del Mar. To date, Home-SAFE’s Family Resource Center and Vista’s new school services building bear Al and Hedi’s names.

“I really believe I’m living a lot longer because I keep on giving,” Azus said at his home recently. “It’s my biggest pleasure in life. It makes me feel good.”

Azus penned his latest book with Loren Stephens, owner of Write Wisdom memoir publishing company. Stephens helped Azus write his first book, “Life Is a Game: Bet on Yourself,” in 2003 and in 2010 picked up his narrative again to tell the story of Azus’ altruistic spirit, forged during a life of hardship and tragedy.

“There are people with more money than Al has, but not nearly the heart that he has,” Stephens said. “This book is really a primer for people — it’s a sermon on how to be generous, how to live like Al has lived.”

Chapter 1 describes the origins of Azus’ philosophy: “Poverty can make you generous.”

Born in Chicago, the oldest of four children in a Sephardic Turkish family, Azus got his first job at age 8 and continued working throughout his school years. The Great Depression was under way, and his family was on welfare.

When Azus was 14, he went to work for Didech Brothers suit makers. One of his jobs was to deliver finished suits to customers, rain or shine. Before Yom Kippur one year, he had to deliver a suit to a good customer during a blizzard. Azus had no coat or boots and arrived at the client’s shoe store shivering and wet. The owner looked at the holes in Azus’ shoes and promptly handed him a new pair. “I always dreamed that someday I would find a way to give to children in the same way that so many generous people had given to me,” Azus writes.

At 21, Azus enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. When he returned unscathed from his four-year service, he knew he had to pay his good luck forward. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something. I’m on borrowed time,’ ” he recalled. After the war, the consumer industry was booming. Azus worked as a salesman, peddling refrigerators, dishwashers and vacuums door-to-door. Later he sold stationery, gambling on his natural gift for sales to build a livelihood on commission. It turned out to be a lucrative bet.

Clients would tell him they had trouble getting high-quality printed envelopes. He found a printing machine for sale for $750, took on a partner and founded Alna Envelope Co. in 1954. Slowly, doggedly, he grew his business into an industry giant.

And then, as the story goes, he decided to give back.

Children’s agencies have been Azus’ largest philanthropic cause. “Everyone is looking for love,” he said. “I find that with kids in need.”

Azus has funded programs at the Hollenbeck Youth Center for decades. Often, he would hire youths in need of income to work at Alna. Some still work at the company after 35 years. Not only did he help start careers, he also underwrote a multimedia program at the center to give kids trade training — so they could bet on themselves, as Azus had.

“Believe me, I receive a lot more than I give,” he said.

Last year, Al and Hedi Azus were honored at the ribbon cutting for Vista Del Mar’s new school services building. The couple donated $1.3 million for the project, just part of the $3 million they have given to the Cheviot Hills organization since the 1980s.

For Azus, the gift is personal.

Years before Alna, Azus’ first wife, Serene, died of tuberculosis. The Korean War was hurting his appliance store and he had just bought a house in Pacoima for his family that he could no longer afford. Azus was forced to seek help to care for his son and daughter, ages 3 and 2. He’d heard about Vista and asked if they could help his family. “They said, ‘We’ll help you — that’s what we do,’ ” he recalled. His children lived in foster care for two years, until he remarried and was able to make a home for them again. Azus never forgot the agency’s hospitality.

“Al is always one to say, ‘What can I do? What do you need?’ ” Vista Del Mar president and CEO Elias Lefferman said. “He cares genuinely. He says, ‘I’m here because kids need things.’ Acts of kindness and generosity by people like Al make all the difference.”

Azus doesn’t want the recognition, doesn’t care for plaques on the wall. “I have trouble being honored,” he said. “I hate to brag.”

His only concern, said Hedi Azus, is whether he’s doing enough. “The community needs so much, and Al wants to make sure he has enough money to cover it,” she said.

Yet Azus’ generosity doesn’t only benefit strangers. In “Live Longer by Giving,” he also writes of the importance of giving to family and employees. Before they were widespread, Azus started pension plans for his workers. He has helped them buy homes, care for their children and meet living expenses. In return, they have shown him professional and personal loyalty: In 1985, when Azus had quintuple bypass surgery, they all donated blood for his operation.

Family is especially meaningful to Azus. Serene was only 25 when she died, and he never got over her. His second wife, Harriet, died of cancer. His daughter, Rhonda, died several years ago after a lifelong struggle with mental illness. He talks about his remaining children and grandchildren with protective fondness. Of Hedi, to whom he has been married for 35 years, he writes, “With [her] by my side, everything is possible.”

Azus has given copies of his latest book to friends, family and employees, and distributed a limited run to colleagues at his favorite charities.

He still goes to his downtown office on Wednesdays. He reads his two books often and says he marvels over “what one person can do.”

“It’s amazing — starting out with no money at all and now giving away millions,” he said.

Even at 92, Azus said, giving is easy. Coming to terms with the challenges of age is the hard part. “Is living longer a curse or a blessing?” he wondered. “I can’t walk. I have health problems. I’ve lost so many loved ones. But it’s a blessing if you can do something for other people.”

Searching for the soul


On a recent Friday night, during one of her rare articulate moments, I asked my 88-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s if she could feel her soul.

“Yes, I certainly can,” she answered slowly, searching for her words, as she struggled to express the reflection of the feelings inside.

“How?” I probed.

“I believe in it. I always have,” she said.

I had come to Grancell Village at the Jewish Home for the Aging to pick up my 90-year-old father and bring him home for Shabbat dinner. My mother was so unusually alert that evening, so I brought her too.

At our house, with our adult children present, her ability to talk continued. I was so surprised that I brought out the volumes of hand-written recipe books that she began in 1947 and asked her if she knew what they were.

She picked them up and felt them. “Of course, I know what these are.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“These are a part of me,” she said slowly. “They are connected to who I am.”

I noticed that she had answered far deeper than saying, “These are my recipe books.”

I didn’t need any more evidence that she indeed felt her soul.

The next day, my father told me, she had reverted back and couldn’t string three words together.

At the age of 56, I have learned that we assume upon ourselves many labels and classifications during our lifetime. As much as we try to hold on, nothing stays static. In the last year, one of my most active identities has become being the son of an Alzheimer’s victim. As each week passes, the week before looks like a time when my mother was capable of miracles. A little more than two years ago she was still driving and cooking Rosh Hashannah dinners for 20 people. Now I don’t even have to worry about her reading this article. Always a voracious reader, she stopped reading a year ago.

My father, who doesn’t appear a day above 60, has stepped up in a big way, always at her side, completing her sentences and her movements, so that they can remain together in their apartment at the Jewish Home.

In my new capacity as the son of an Alzheimer’s victim, I have many questions. Some of them are Jewish questions. One kept me up for hours the other night, leading me to my bookshelf at 3 a.m., combing through volumes to see what insights I might glean. What happens to the soul during Alzheimer’s?

Right now, while my mother is still in physical form, where is her soul? The soul that was so deeply emotional, at times irrational, always larger than life, filled with equal amounts of love and anger, happiness and discontent that could burst forward with dancing, singing, crying, yelling and admonition—the soul that always reached out to those in despair, touching people with deep reservoirs of friendship and concern?

Does that soul still exist? Is it sick, too? Does it also have Alzheimer’s, while she is still alive? Maybe it is completely present, having pulled inside itself until it is released from this ailing body? There are comments my mother still makes as she did at my house that evening, when I can still see sparks of her soul.

When I put this question out to my friend, Larry Neinstein, a cantor and doctor who is head of student health at USC, he had much to say. Larry has multiple myeloma. In the last two years, he has survived through a successful blood transplant and refers to his ongoing chemo treatments as appetizer chemos, main course chemos, dessert chemos and triple high-dose atomic blasts. Larry thrives in remission, holding his breath of life from blood test to blood test. He is an inspiration to our entire circle of friends, who all stand in awe of his active life filled with family, work, hikes, music, trips abroad and his continuing to attend international conferences as a world-renowned keynote speaker on adolescent medicine.

Larry wrote me a few days later:

“The soul, I think, is only a flickering light when we are born,” he wrote. “It gains and grows in strength, meaning and depth throughout our life, through our families, our friends, our colleagues, through the profound moments, through music and through dance. At the same time, our soul is partially emptying itself to others, to our children as they are born, to friends and to the colleagues that we touch. It was like an ‘Ah ha!’ moment, when I was staring at my 1-month-old granddaughter’s eyes, and she was staring back with a combination of emptiness and fullness, of love and yearning, for her soul to have a chance of so much to come.

“I realized at that moment that my soul is in so many places and people, to one small degree or another,” he continued. “And the better life I have led, the deeper that soul that is in me, but the less that is left as I age. If I have led a full life, there will be none left on one side, and an immense amount left elsewhere.” 

Another friend of mine, a writer and editor, when I told him about these same questions, asked me in return, “Is this really about the questions?  Isn’t all this actually about the relationship with your mother?”

I gave his very penetrating question days of thought. While I might be psychologically in constant relationship with her understanding, and acting out the effect a parent has upon a child, I am no longer in an active give-and-take relationship with my mother.

As I told my brother, wife and kids recently, “The mother I knew is gone. This is not the same woman. This is a remnant of my mother. Shades of my mother have been removed, lifted to some other place. Without her full soul, I may recognize her physical appearance and even some of the things she says; her expressions and her scant memories. But while I give her all the respect and care she deserves—the attention and even interaction—there is no longer the exchange of dynamism and love between us that there once was.

She told me just three years ago, while we were driving on the 405, “You see this freeway?  If I ever get Alzheimer’s or any kind of dementia, you roll me out of this door right here and tell them I jumped out myself. I don’t ever want to be living like that in one of those places. Do you hear me?”

That was the mother with whom I was having a relationship. I often wonder what my responsibility is toward the mother I knew and her ebullient soul, as opposed to one at the Jewish Home?

Gary Wexler, a former advertising agency creative director, owns Passion Marketing, a consulting firm to nonprofit organizations worldwide, including major Jewish organizations in the United States, Canada and Israel.

Research and references are the key to selecting assisted living facility


Many potential residents pin their hopes on assisted living and its menu of services as a means to keep them independent for as long as possible. Seniors who require help and support in managing their daily activities, but who don’t need medical oversight or intense supervision, are the best candidates for assisted living. They may select from a range of possible services, including meals, laundry, cleaning, bathing, dressing, toileting and other personal care, albeit for additional fees.

The following advice can help you find the right assisted-living facility to meet your individual needs and to empower you to make sure that what is required by law and promised by the assisted-living facility is, in fact, delivered.

Differences Between Facilities

It is said that if you’ve seen one assisted living facility, you’ve seen one assisted-living facility.

An assisted-living unit may be as grand as a small apartment with a tiny kitchen in a large complex or as modest as a shared room with little more than a bed and dresser for each resident. One can find an assisted-living facility housing 100 residents and providing onsite nursing care two blocks away from another facility that houses six residents and employs a staff with no health care expertise at all.

Such disparities exist because assisted-living law in most states is loosely regulated. In an atmosphere of looseness, many assisted-living owners are only inclined to provide high-quality care under pressure.

Locate the Place That’s Right for You

Matching an individual’s specific needs (physical, emotional and social) to an appropriate assisted-living setting is a tricky endeavor, because there are so many differences between facilities. There are no shortcuts to finding the most suitable facility, but the following tips have helped others in their search for the right place:

Gather Personal Recommendations

Seeking a referral from any of the following sources make for a good first step:

  • Friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
  • A social worker or geriatric care manager.
  • A physician who specializes in geriatrics.
  • Home health caregivers or hospice workers whose clients live in assisted-living facilities
  • A hospital discharge planner (be aware that their recommendations may not always be based on the patient’s best interests, because in many hospitals, discharge planners are pressured to get patients out the door as soon as possible, which may distort their advice.)

Take the Formal Tour

When your initial research narrows the candidates to a handful of facilities, it’s time for onsite visits. Above all, trust your senses and intuition. Does the assisted-living facility feel good, smell good and appear clean and bright? When you visit, remember to do the following:

  • Talk to facility employees. Questions can be addressed to the admissions coordinator or administrator, as well as employees more directly involved in resident care. Potential residents or family members should ask questions that matter to them, with as much specificity as possible. For example, the potential resident who has concerns about falling should ask about the amount of available hands-on assistance, as well as the facility’s fall prevention policies.

    The tone of the answers is as important as the content. It’s a bad sign if employees seem resistant or evasive when asked to consider a potential resident’s individual concerns.

  • Talk to residents and family members. Current residents and their family members and other visitors know a facility’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. Conversations with residents and their loved ones should take place without a staff member present. This is another opportunity to gauge a facility’s attitude. If the facility staff seems perfectly comfortable with private conversations between current and potential residents, the facility is more likely to be a good place to live.

Consider the Location

The best assisted-living facility in the world isn’t much good if it’s too far away for family and friends to drop by or too difficult to get to because of traffic patterns or lack of public transportation.

  • Older adults, whose friends and relatives visit frequently, tend to keep their spirits up and feel less lonely.
  • Family members who visit often tend to develop a relationship with various staff members, which benefits everyone, including relatives, staff members and residents.

Look Out for Yourself or Your Loved One

The following situations are common in assisted-living facilities. Asking the suggested questions will help you to determine whether the facility is the right one to meet you or your loved one’s current and future needs:

  • It’s unclear how much control residents have over their day-to-day life in the facility. Are there meal choices? Is there a range of daily activities to choose from? Are residents free to wake up and go to bed whenever they wish? Are there any restrictions on a resident’s right to see visitors (e.g., time and place)? Are rooms private or shared? Once a resident is settled in, does the room become permanent, or can he or she be forced to move to a different room?
  • A staff member tells you that residents’ care is planned, but you don’t know what that means. What kind of care and level of supervision is provided? Is the facility licensed? (Most states require a license, which means that specific regulations set the minimal standard of care that must be provided.)
  • You are uncertain of the cost. What exactly is included? How many meals? Are the bedrooms and bathrooms cleaned or just the community areas? How often? Does the cost vary with the amount of care required by the resident? If so, how? How frequently has the cost been increased in the past?

    (Be aware that Medicare doesn’t pay for assisted-living arrangements. Most tenants pay out of their own pockets. Even when long-term-care insurance policies pay, they may allow only a specified amount of money to cover assisted living, after which no insurance funds are left should nursing home care be necessary.)

  • You worry about whether or not there will be someone on duty if you or your loved one needs assistance. What is the ratio of direct-care staff to residents during the day? During the evening and overnight? How many staff members are on duty at night? What is the staff’s health care expertise? Are the services of a nurse available?
  • It is unclear how medication is administered. Who administers medication? How much training does that person have?

  • You worry that care needs may become too much for the facility to handle. What would happen if the resident got increasingly weaker and needed a two-person assist to get out of bed or required insulin injections for diabetes?

(Be aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits a business from discriminating based on a person’s medical condition and requires a business to modify its procedures reasonably to accommodate a person with a disability.)

  • You don’t know whether your loved one’s safety is a priority. Are residents regularly checked on? How frequently during the day, in the evening and through the night are they checked? Does the facility have a sprinkler system to prevent fires?
  • You don’t know whether residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia-related symptoms receive special services. What procedures and policies does the facility follow for residents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementing illnesses? Does the facility have a system to prevent confused residents from wandering away?

Dr. Rachelle Zukerman is professor emeritus of social welfare at UCLA, a gerontologist and author of the book, “Eldercare for Dummies.” She can be reached at drrzuk@aol.com.

Newest mah-jongg players ‘crak’ stereotypes. Bam!


Elaine Sandberg fits the mold of what you would expect to encounter when you consider someone who plays American mah-jongg. She’s Jewish and just past retirement age.

But the 70-something L.A. mah-jongg instructor, who has taught the game for Holland American Cruise Lines and recently at American Jewish University, is hoping to help mah-jongg crack age and racial barriers. As the game has grown in popularity over the past decade, Sandberg is seeking to broaden its appeal with her book, “A Beginner’s Guide to American Mah Jongg: How to Play the Game and Win” (Tuttle, $14.95).

While some people might be more familiar with mah-jongg from the solitaire version found on computers and the Internet, it’s the classic American game that attracted Sandberg. She played for the first time 15 years ago with the Brandeis National Woman’s Club, shortly after moving to Rancho Park from Brooklyn.

“They offered a class, and I wanted to learn,” said Sandberg, an avid bridge player who turned to the club to make friends.

After that first game, she became a mah-jongg addict and spent months playing to develop her competitive skills. Now a tournament player, Sandberg started teaching the game about five years ago.

She said that until recently little had been written on the American version of the game, and she didn’t feel comfortable giving the titles to her students.

“If it was ever going to take off, there had to be some better learning materials,” Sandberg said.

Mah-jongg is a four-player gambling game similar to gin rummy. It originated in China in the mid- to late 1800s and has several national variants, including Vietnamese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Japanese versions. The original classic Chinese game has regional variants like Hong Kongese or Cantonese and Sichuan.

Joseph Park Babcock is credited with introducing a Westernized version of mah-jongg to the United States in the 1920s with his book, “Rules of Mah-Jongg,” which helped kick-start a short-lived nationwide craze that included Eddie Cantor singing “Since Ma Is Playing Mah Jong.” The fad faded by the 1930s, but a group of mostly Jewish women formed the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) in 1937 and published the rule book, “Maajh: The American Version of the Ancient Chinese Game,” which helped standardize the game into the American mah-jongg played today.

While the 1920s mah-jongg fad was accepted by nearly every segment of the American population, it became increasingly known as a game that Jewish women played in the decades that followed.

Sandberg’s interest in mah-jongg came at a time when American enthusiasm for the game was starting to pick up again in the 1990s. No longer relegated to Hadassah gatherings and bubbe’s living room, “maajh” has been in the midst of a revival since before the turn of the millennium.

In 1999, Lois Madow founded the American Mah-Jongg Association as a challenge to the dominance of the national league. The group, which bills itself as the “mah-jongg association for the new millennium,” organizes several tournaments throughout the year for cash prizes.

Today even the stereotype of the typical American mah-jongg player is being challenged. It’s no longer an “old-lady’s game,” Sandberg writes.

In her book, Sandberg mentions one student who told her, “My mom used to play mah jongg two or three times a week. She played for 30 years with the same friends, and I could never understand why.”

Nostalgia can play an important part for Jews wanting to learn. But it doesn’t account for its spread to other segments of the American population.

NMJL says it has experienced a 20 percent growth in recent years; it currently has about 275,000 members. The organization’s president, Ruth Unger, links the game’s growing popularity within larger segments of the American public to more Jews retiring in ethnically diverse communities.

“We’re moving to more inclusive places,” she said, referring to retirement villages and planned communities, where Jews are spreading their love for the game.

During a recent fall class in mah-jongg at American Jewish University, Sandberg explained the basics of the game to several continuing-education students in their 50s and 60s.

She said a common misconception is that mah-jongg is boring. But once you play it, Sandberg said, “it’s thrilling; there’s nothing more exciting than when, with your heart racing, your adrenaline pumping and your palms sweating, you call ‘Mah-jongg.'”

The game can be played with tiles or cards. Like gin, you’re trying to combine the faces to make a specific hand.

The basic tiles contain three suits — dots, bams (short for bamboos) and craks (numbered one through nine in Chinese characters) — as well as other tiles like dragons, winds, flowers and jokers. In total, there are 152 tiles, and 14 of them are needed to win the game.

By picking and discarding, you make specific combinations, which correspond to certain hands. The hands are printed on a card every player must own, but to keep things interesting, the associations change the hands annually, so you’re not playing the same games from year to year.

With Sandberg’s guide in hand, this 20-something reporter took a seat at a table with three students from her class. Players laughed and joked as they picked tiles and played. Sandberg floated around the table, ensuring none of the players made any rookie mistakes.

Sandberg’s book supplied easy-to-understand hints and tips for beating opponents. A “wall game,” one in which there was no clear winner (like a cat’s game in tic-tac-toe), became the only viable — and successful — strategy.

The game requires the right combination of skill, luck and brains. In order to learn and play effectively, Sandberg said, “learn the game and play the game. Only then will you become a mah-jongg winner.”

Elaine Sandberg’s next beginning mah-jongg class will start in February at American Jewish University. To contact Elaine, email elasan@msn.com

” target=”_blank”>http://www.nationalmahjonggleague.org/ or ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mahjongg.com/

A not-so-random sampling of the Class of 2007


Every year when I send out that first e-mail asking educators and leaders from around the city to nominate high school seniors for this “Outstanding Seniors” article, the angst begins. I get the names of dozens of nominees, and through a one-paragraph description I’m supposed to figure out who belongs in this feature.It’s an impossible task, and inevitably I resign myself to the ultimate randomness of this selection — for every teen I pick, 10 others could have filled that spot.

And yet, taken as a whole, this group of teens offers what feels like a pretty accurate cross-section of the leaders of the Class of 2007, and illuminates the concerns that drive them and their cohorts.

What stood out among this group of teens is an eagerness to take responsibility not only for their own futures, but for society.

One student has worked to pass state legislation to improve the lives of teens, and another has published nationally recognized research on AIDS. They have fed the homeless, mentored children, buddied with the disabled, and raised $20,000 for Holocaust survivors. They have founded baseball teams, language clubs, social action groups and astronomy programs. They have spread their love of Judaism to younger children and to peers, and thought deeply about how to improve the world.

So is it random? Maybe. But if this is what a random sampling of the Class of 2007 yields, I’m OK with that.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

It’s All About Student Empowerment

Tess Lerner-Byars
Tess Lerner-ByarsFrom: North Hollywood High School Highly Gifted Magnet and
Wilshire Boulevard Temple Religious School
To: Yale University

While other seniors waited for news of college acceptances, Tess Lerner-Byars was waiting for word from the California Legislature.

As president of the California Association of Student Councils (CASC), Lerner-Byars helped craft a bill, now making its way through the appropriations committee, that would stop the practice of the state docking a school’s per-pupil, per-day funding if a student took off for civic activity or social action projects.

It’s an issue that hits close to home for Lerner-Byars, a senior in the Highly Gifted Magnet at North Hollywood High School, who has accumulated a considerable number of absences this year as she traveled to Sacramento or to Oakland, where CASC is headquartered, to plan conferences and leadership training programs for elementary, middle and high school students.

Lerner-Byars, who also served on her school’s student government, hopes to bring student empowerment closer to home. As an intern in the mayor’s Department of Youth, Children and Their Families this summer, she is planning to hold a conference that will kick off a student policy committee for Los Angeles Unified School District, with a mission similar to CASC’s.

She plans to continue her policy work at Yale next year by joining the Roosevelt Institute, which gives college students a voice in creating national and international policy.

Lerner-Byars is well positioned for advocacy: she placed fourth in the state’s Speech and Debate competition, and was in the top 50 nationally, in the original speech category. She also finished in the top 10 in Duke University’s international law competition.

Lerner-Byars is fluent in Spanish and French, and started her school’s language club. She also played two years of varsity soccer and wrote for the school paper.

With all this, Lerner-Byars still found time to study in religious school at Wilshire Boulevard Temple through her senior year. She is a madricha, a counselor, to eighth graders at the Temple.

“I stayed on primarily because of the sense of community I feel there,” she said.

— JGF

Getting Beyond Small Talk

Ori Kanefsky
Ori Kanefsky

From: YULA Boys School
To: Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshiva University

If you are one of the several-hundred people Ori Kanefsky makes a point of meeting at a youth group convention, your conversation with him may quickly go from “Hey, what’s up?” to “What are your goals in life?” or “What would you do if you found out today you weren’t Jewish?”

Intense and enthusiastic, Kanefsky likes to get beyond small talk and find out what is really going on with people. In one instance, he was even able to talk a peer out of considering suicide.

“I think the idea of religion is that its commandments and rules and opportunities can transform us into an incredibly ethical and moral person who seeks to go out and always do the right thing and make the world as good a place as we can,” said Kanefsky, a YULA senior and the vice president of education for the Southwest Region of the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

Kanefsky is a founder and the president of the Jewish Teen Action Group (J-Tag). The group made and handed out thousands of peanut-butter-and-jelly sack lunches to the homeless in Santa Monica and downtown, and another time made a barbecue for the needy on Venice Beach.

He is a counselor and tutor to younger kids, and a liaison to the Etta Israel Center, rustling volunteers to staff Shabbatons and events for disabled children and adults.

An honors student who loves math, he is chairman of the YULA’s spirit committee, captain of the cross-country team and plays keyboard in a band. He was one of five teens nationwide to be named a Senator Joseph Lieberman Scholar, an Orthodox Union program that educates teens about the leadership and organizational structure of the American Jewish community.

Kanefsky will study at the Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel next year, and then attend Yeshiva University in New York, where he won a full merit scholarship in the school’s honors program. While both are schools his father, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, attended, he doesn’t think he’ll become a pulpit rabbi. He is toying with the idea of going into engineering or business, or possibly education or psychology — pursuits he already seems to have mastered with his peers.

— JGF

Ms. Morgenstern Goes to Washington

Madeleine Morgenstern

Life at 85: what a trip!


I was born in Chicago some 85 years ago. My home was Jewish Orthodox and consisted of my mother, her two brothers and their father, my grandfather. I specify
my grandfather because, in those days, nobody ever thought of placing their old father in an old folks’ home.

My closest friend while growing up was Alan, who lived across the street. Each evening, we would go for a walk — generally lasting about two hours. He and I really liked each other, but this walk was a very silent one, neither of us had much to say.

In 1943, I left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles. It was during the war, and I became a flight test engineer and copilot on the airplane known as the B-25. From then on, Alan and I spoke on the phone but also had personal visits during the years.

The other day, I got a call from Alan, who is now 87 and a widower.

Now, not as before, there was ongoing conversation. Not silent anymore. But what did we have to talk about? The talk ran easy. We spoke for a long time about his hip problems and my back and other health problems. The opening, “How are you?” was for one minute, and the health conversation lasted for one hour.

Now you may ask, why I am telling you the story of my friend? It has to do with my past. When he and I were growing up, how in the world would we ever know or think about hip problems at the age of 87? We would have asked: What do you mean by “the age of 87?” It was another world. A world of which we had no knowledge.
My reaction to our long conversation was very emotional. I was in tears when it was time to say goodbye. I said, “Alan, you have my love.”

BR>
But this is what the past does for you — it is really another life; it’s gone but never forgotten. That thought will always put a tear in your eye.

The goodbye was so different than our youthful, nonspeaking days.

The conversation with Alan opened the door of my brain. I suddenly realized I am 85 and part of another world: It’s called the present. I have gone through the youth time, the middle time when I was 40 to 60 and, now, I find myself in the third stage. What a trip! Really unbelievable.

We look back on the past because it was another era. In our youth and young years, life included activities you chose. Your responsibilities were minimal compared to those as you grew older. Being young and thinking young allowed you to exist in a world that is the start of the middle age.

Of course, there are exceptions, and some people are required to give more of themselves as required by family obligations. But those times somewhat establish the makeup you will carry the rest of your life.

From the middle age, we enter what is called the old-age era. Old age is intended to slow the flow of time so we can get back to the real “hopefully pleasant” moments of the past.

How do I handle belonging to the senior group? How do I accept the present? It is very, very hard to say to myself: “You are old.” Stepping into this stage is not easy; it’s difficult to accept the number 85.

At 85 I have given up driving. I just can’t see well enough. There are two other “loves of my life that also went by the wayside: tennis and jogging. My eyesight also contributes to hardship in reading the newspaper. I find it difficult to really accept the fact that I can no longer do all of the middle-life chores or continue with many of my chosen activities. I find myself thinking about the activities that came so easily in my middle life.

But in the “old age” category, one must force oneself to realize the here and now. Activities must conform to the present place you are in life, both physically and mentally. When you come to accept the present position, time wise, I think you can then enjoy what you have — and prosper with all the good things that are there.

You can take advantage of the knowledge of the past, an example of which is the seven-member men’s club I belong to. It used to be that each time we met, the opening welcome was a cordial handshake. The past brought me to ask this group of men, a gender that often refuses to show hidden emotions, “Are you glad to see each other?”

The answer was, of course, “Yes.”

So I suggested a hug in place of a handshake — and the hug has taken over.
I find others, friends not in their 80s, display emotional tenderness to me and my wife, who is 84. I detect my friends thinking that age brings great knowledge not present in the early years. Another great experience is having our family close by and the joy they exhibit at having us with them.

The past is very important; it contributes to the actions of the present. Look back and enjoy your thoughts, but the present is here and now. Live it up, take pleasure in your friends and do not feel bad thinking about who you are today. Tell your thoughts and become a charter member of “Senior Time.”


Red Lachman is a short-story writer.

Wandering Jew – The Hit Parade


Here it is: 5,000 years after Moses wandered the Sinai, his people have finally found a home in Reseda, no less, at the Jewish Home for the Aging, the largest continuing residential care facility for the elderly in the Western United States. Yet while these Jews are no longer wandering, they are today wondering when the big simchah begins.

“We’re so excited!” says Mimi Kolmer. “We’ve been waiting for this all year!” In her mid-70s, she is one of close to 1,000 residents here at Eisenberg Village, most past their 90th birthday, and here they are today, watching guys in their 30s and 40s playing softball.

“What’s this about?” I ask Doug Gellerman, and he tells me this is the Spring Classic Event sponsored by the Synagogue Softball League.

“The league consists of 32 teams,” he says, “made up of 620 guys from temples all over the San Fernando Valley and West L.A. Four years ago we decided to give something back to our Jewish community, and each year it’s gotten bigger. We raise money for the home and bring our families so the kids and elders experience each other.”

Gellerman points to a kid about 10 years old talking with an old guy on a bench: “It’s a mitzvah for the kids to learn about giving back.”

“Is this your grandfather?” I ask the kid.

“Yeah,” he says. “He’s telling me about when he was a kid, but he can’t remember. He thinks maybe he has old-timer’s disease.”

“It’s Alzheimer’s, not old-timers,” Gramps says. “Maybe you have young-timers disease?”

Then he grabs his grandson and kisses him hard on the cheek.

Next event is senior softball, and I watch a bunch of elders swatting a whiffle ball with a big plastic bat, with pitching and fielding handled by the kids. The pitcher, who looks like he’s ready for his bar mitzvah, throws Morton Symans a soft pitch, and he misses.

“Hey kid!” yells Symans, who’s 85 years old. “I might be a senior citizen but don’t throw me no soft pitch! The road ahead of you is not the road that I’m on. It’s not a soft road. So toughen up!”

The kid shrugs, winds up, throws with all he’s got, and Symans slams the ball over everyone’s heads.

“Smart kid,” Symans says. “He’ll do just fine.”

Hilda Foodman, 72 years old and a self-proclaimed tomboy, is up next.

“I’ll tell you a wonderful story that happened to me,” she says, “but you must promise not to tell.”

“Hilda,” her friend interrupts, “you’re telling a reporter!”

“Oy!” says Hilda, and grabbing the bat, hits everything pitched her way.

Up next in a “Be Cool” T-shirt is Shelly Balzac. At 78, he walks with a cane but he swats a long one.

“Any relation to the writer?” I ask.

“Balzac was married in the Ukraine,” he says, “and my parents were from Kiev.”

“So that makes Balzac…”

“Dead.”

A kibitzer. Everyone here is a kibitzer.

Next event is the talent show. First up is Bill Mednick. A youthful 82, he wails, “Some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger….”

Well, for most residents, the hearing isn’t what it used to be, so the PA is set very, very loud. Good-natured Ida Greenbaum, the accompanying pianist, is like a city bus in that she tends to slow down and speed up unexpectedly, which obligates Bill to turn to her pleading, “Where are you?”

Bill concludes, and master of ceremonies Ellis (“Not the Island!”) Simon introduces Muriel Tuckman. She finishes to loud applause but not as loud as her singing: “There’s a somebody I’m longing to see…someone to watch over me….”

“And who would that be, dear?” I ask. “George Bush?”

“That louse,” says Simon, and everyone agrees.

“When I was in the Marines,” he says, “a G.I. called me ‘a dirty Jew’ so I kicked his ass.”

Simon now asks us to show some love for “The Bird Lady” — and up steps Mildred Cadish, wearing a long, red feather boa. Looking like a bird, she takes the mike, puckers her lips and makes so many high-pitched squeals, some of the residents begin sprouting feathers. “I’ve been chirping 79 years,” she announces to great applause.

Muriel is a hard act to follow, but here’s Howard Hersh, 85, marauding his way through “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Amazingly, each note Howard sings is in a different key.

Give it up now for Lee Miro, who while disavowing any relationship to the surrealist painter, nonetheless presents a surrealistic performance sitting in her wheelchair and belting out in an operatic voice, “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

“We thank you all for being with us today,” she tells the appreciative crowd, while Adam, a lad of 14, takes the stage and juggles oranges. He tosses one under his leg, and the room roars.

“Maybe he’ll wind up a produce man at Ralphs,” says Mimi Kolmer, who then asks me what temple I’m from.

I tell her Shirley Temple and she smiles.

“This is the most outstanding place,” she says. “I have lots of friends. And everyone has a smile or a greeting. I’m very lucky.”

But not as lucky as those of us now being pummeled by Al Heyman, “singing” a little ditty that was popular around the time Noah built his ark. “Because, you come to me, with naught save love, and hold my hand and lift mine eyes above….”

As Al hits his last note, I can hear corneal implants shatter.

“Every time he sings,” Simon tells the crowd, “my hernia kills me. Next week he’ll sing ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and your head will explode!”

The talent show now ends with Simon himself singing “My Way.”

“If it wasn’t for Frank Sinatra,” he says, “I would have been famous!”

Someone yells, “Ellis, was your family rich or poor?” And without missing a beat, Simon tells the room “You know, my family was so poor, if I hadn’t been a boy, I’d have had nothing to play with.”

Gellerman now hands out checks totaling $3,300, money raised by the softball teams to be used by the home for the residents. Before he leaves, Gellerman asks Ellis to “return the money.”

Jewish humor.

On my way out, as I head for my nearest Beltone dealer, I run into Symans, the guy who told the kid to toughen up.

“Old people are like Don Quixote,” he says. “They think they’re still independent but they wind up tilting at windmills. I accept what I have and who I am — so I try to help others adjust.”

And then suddenly, from the PA, comes one last announcement, the one proclamation that bridges all senior politics, religion and age: “Bingo will begin in the library in 15 minutes!”

“Gotta run,” Symans says. “Zey gezunt!”

Drug Plan Proving Bitter Pill for Seniors


After sorting through piles of brochures, Millie Topper thought she had finally found the right Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit plan to pay for the high blood pressure medications she wanted.

But once the 77-year-old resident of Silver Spring, Md., crunched the numbers, she realized she couldn’t afford the plan’s heavy deductibles and monthly premiums. Grudgingly, she signed up instead for a plan that forces her to take a generic drug in lieu of the brand name she prefers.

“I don’t know which way to turn,” Topper said.

Her friends, she said, complain that “you’d have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the Medicare drug benefit.”

It’s a familiar story for Jewish officials who staff the community’s elderly help lines, where phones have been ringing off the hook in advance of the May 15 deadline to enroll in a prescription benefit plan. The benefit, which took effect Jan. 1, has been financially detrimental to some Jewish seniors and helpful to others — but bewildering to almost all.

“I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘Boy that’s terrific,'” said Beth Hess, director of aging and disability services for the Jewish Social Services Agency. “Nobody’s dancing on the ceiling with enthusiasm for this.”

Its consequences are important for a Jewish community with disproportionately large numbers of seniors. A recent survey recorded 19 percent of U.S. Jews as seniors, as opposed to 12 percent in the general population.

The benefit is the fruit of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, which for the first time covers all Medicare beneficiaries. The government turned to private enterprise to handle the massive new entitlement, against the backdrop of escalating drug costs. Incentives were offered to private companies to administer the benefit at the lowest possible cost. The idea was to encourage profit-driven companies to compete against one another to enlist seniors, causing prices to drop.

Under the rules of Medicare’s new prescription drug plan, known as Part D, beneficiaries must choose a plan offered by a private insurer. Each Part D plan — and there are dozens in each state — has its own “formulary,” a restrictive list of drugs, pharmacies, monthly premiums, co-payments and yearly deductibles.

Finding the best and most affordable plan has Jewish seniors grousing about the maze of options. The jargon has added to the confusion.

“I didn’t even know what ‘formulary’ meant,” Topper said.

For those enrollees who stand to benefit from the new system, the immense confusion triggered by the transition has overshadowed the more affordable costs. With many seniors on multiple prescription drugs at once — along with the ever-present prospect of needing new medications, finding the right formulary has become a tall order.

One way of searching for plans is by accessing the “plan finder” on the Medicare.gov Web site, a process many experts say can be confusing for anyone, let alone seniors who may not be computer savvy.

Some seniors pore over each individual formulary brochure they receive in the mail. But most chafe at sifting through the formularies or using the Internet to find the best plan. Many Jewish seniors have turned to their children and grandchildren for help

“What’s most impressive is how active children are in trying to help their parents, regardless of how much money they have,” Hess said. “Active adult children are making it a lot easier on Jewish seniors.”

William Peirez, president of B’nai B’rith International’s MetroNorth region, enrolled his 87-year-old mother in an AARP plan. Peirez is angry about the new system, which he says is far too complicated.

“An 80-year-old can not figure this out,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s too difficult for me, and I’m 62 and a lawyer.”

Jewish leaders and policy analysts agree that some of the biggest losers from the benefit are the indigent on Medicaid, including a number of Jews.

“There is this stereotype that all Jews have money,” said Rachel Goldberg, director of senior advocacy at B’nai B’rith International. “We forget that while the average income for Jews is slightly higher, we still do have older Jews living in poverty.”

At the beginning of the year, all 6 million Americans who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare were automatically enrolled in random private plans under the new benefit.

Prior to the switch, Medicaid recipients, who are in the lowest income bracket, had received their drugs without cost. Now they are saddled with more restricted options and face co-payment costs of a few dollars each time they request a prescription.

“Many are paying more than they used to, and simply cannot afford it,” Goldberg said. “What sounds like coffee money to middle-class people, if you’re living hand-to-mouth, can [determine] whether or not you make your electric bill.”

Goldberg and other Jewish leaders are also highlighting lower-middle and low-income seniors who come close but do not qualify for Medicaid. This group has the most to gain from the benefit but also the most to lose, they said. Many seniors lack assistance in paying for their drugs, though there are subsidies for people who pass an assets test. But poorer seniors are less likely to have access to advisers and the best information to find the right plan. Without help, many feel powerless and are avoiding the benefit altogether, experts said.

Another lightning rod for confusion and concern is gaps in the benefit structure, called “doughnut holes.” If drug costs — including out-of-pocket costs and Medicare’s portion — exceed $2,250, Medicare pays nothing, while the beneficiary must cover 100 percent, until costs reach $5,100. Then Medicare defrays 95 percent of costs.

Many Jewish seniors don’t know whether it’s worth spending the extra money in monthly premiums to receive a plan that will fill in all or part of the gap.

Jews who are better off financially and already receiving their drugs through separate plans are unsure whether they would fare better or worse under Part D. Opting into the benefit may result in worse or more costly coverage and lead to the termination of former plans — but seniors also want to avoid late fees incurred if they enroll after the May 15 deadline.

Seniors “are resigned to struggling with a very complicated situation, where what’s right for them can change over time,” said David Gamse, executive director of Jewish Council for the Aging.

 

Interest Increases as Deadline Nears


Susie Tiffany of Beverly Hills suffers from a rare blood disorder and needs monthly infusions of blood components, which her insurance company ultimately declined to cover. She hoped the government’s new prescription drug benefit would help her out because, despite her ZIP code, she’s a low-income senior.

But the possibilities, were baffling: an array of private insurance plans that covered different things, explanations on the Internet that included terms she never had to know before, additional complexities depending on a person’s income and a confusing interplay of state and federal agencies.

However, Tiffany was able to find assistance in her case from Jewish Family Service. A social worker helped get Tiffany’s treatment covered by new state funds intended to help seniors with the transition to the new federal system.

“It’s a good thing that I had a good social worker,” said Tiffany, 65, who lives in a Beverly Hills city subsidized apartment building for low-income seniors.

“There are quite a number of options, and it’s overwhelming,” said Susan Alexman, director of senior services at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles County, insurance companies have offered 47 different plans for seniors seeking to enroll in the new federally funded benefit. The plan’s May 15 deadline means seniors must sign up without delay or face increased fees for late enrollment.

For some seniors, the financial stakes are high. But while interest is picking up, for most of the past year, social service groups have had few takers when they’ve tried to help.

“It’s strange, but our office has not had any calls on that,” said Deborah Baldwin, public benefits supervisor at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, when asked in March.

At the Fairfax District office of the National Council of Jewish Women, a Democratic congressman’s field staffer set aside four hours over two days in late January to discuss the new Medicare Part D drug plan with seniors. Hardly anyone showed up.

“Just three,” the staffer told The Jewish Journal. “People are putting it off.”

Health care activists, community workers and groups, including Jewish Family Service, have been holding numerous Part D awareness meetings, especially this spring.

“This has been going on for a year and a half,” said Anita Chun, community education coordinator at the Center for Healthcare Rights in Los Angeles. “Now people are paying attention.”

A Part D meeting in March in West Hollywood, put on by Jewish Family Service, attracted about 120 seniors. Attendance also picked up for a March meeting at Temple Isaiah in Rancho Park — after a sparsely attended February session with social workers and experts.

Some seniors said they expect to come out OK under the new system.

“The health program that I belong to enrolled everybody in it beforehand,” said Encino retiree Janet Siskind. Her Blue Shield 65 Plus coverage gets her quarterly refills of the three to four pills she needs. Siskind’s combined prescription fees will increase, but only by about $10 annually.

“I’m in good hands with this,” she said. “It’s something I can afford.”

Siskind’s San Fernando Valley chapter of the Na’amat women’s group held a recent Part D meeting for 25 people.

“We figured, ‘Well, it hasn’t started yet, perhaps it’ll get easier as time goes along,'” she said. “It hasn’t really been explained too thoroughly.”

With so much Part D information online, many seniors are at a disadvantage, because of their discomfort or unfamiliarity with the Internet.

California’s Medi-Cal program, which had covered poor and low-income seniors’ prescription costs, stopped providing service on Jan. 1, when Part D took over. Yet there were startup problems, which included state and federal computers being unable to interact. Many poor seniors were suddenly being asked to pay full price for medications. The reports of hardship prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature in mid-January to push through emergency prescription drug funding for low-income seniors until May 15.

“It makes the state the payer of last resort for the prescriptions that they need,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund.

But only until May 15, which could force Tiffany, suffering from the blood disorder, to navigate the system again.

“Good old Part D, the insurance policy that was gonna change it all,” she said. “It’s gonna take some time for me to get happy about it.”

David Merritt, project director at the Center for Health Transformation think tank in Washington, D.C., said that despite such glitches, Medicare Part D transition problems nationwide have been relatively low, with Americans not upset over Part D the way they are over high gas prices.

“Anytime you have a massive policy shift from one system to another system, you’re going to run into problems,” he told The Journal. “The vast majority [of seniors] had zero problems enrolling or getting medication.”

But to Jews dependent on Medicare for affordable drugs, “it’s unfair for seniors to be expected to maneuver through this incredibly messy web,” said Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah. “Health trumps every other problem in your life.”

“They’re basically saying they’re confused, and they want someone to walk them through it,” Klein said.

 

A Big Impression


I’m too old to have heroes. But for those who live their lives with courage, I can make an exception. Like the Impressionists, for instance, whose lives of self-sacrifice I was trying to share with my class of older adults.

“OK, everyone,” I say, “whoever’s not here, raise your hand.”

Naturally, Saul raises his hand. Maybe I should explain.

My senior students suffer from short-term memory loss, a condition less severe than Alzheimer’s and dementia but nonetheless frightening. They can recall exact moments from decades past, but in the present, from one moment to the next, many don’t remember who or where they are. Sort of like elected officials.

“Are you saying you’re not here, Saul?”

“Are you?” he asks, a sour look on his face.

“Good question,” I say. “Now let’s look at an amazing movement in art called Impressionism. First, we’ll watch a video to appreciate the magnificent works of Renoir, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, because this class is art appreciation, right?”

Nothing. No response. Twenty-five people and not a whisper, not a murmur, not a peep.

“Which art movement are we learning about this morning?” I ask. “Anyone?”

Louise takes a stab at it.

“Art.”

“Yes, but which movement?”

Silence. You can hear a pacemaker ticking. Imagine being able to remember the color of your socks when you were 3, but you can’t remember where you put your shoes five minutes before.

“OK,” I press on, “aren’t these just wonderful, these paintings of nature and the human form? What do you think Saul?”

He shrugs. He sighs. A big, burly man in his late 80s, he sits week after week collapsed in his chair, with his head in his chest, and I can’t get a word out of him.

I continue. “Now in the late 1860s….”

Suddenly, here’s Marla.

“Who does those clown paintings?” she yells.

“Clown paintings?”

“Yeah,” she hollers. “I saw a painting with a clown, and there was a tear on his cheek. Who does them? They’re great!”

Clown paintings? We’re talking Renoir here. It’s Monday morning; the class is five minutes in, and I’m wondering if it’s not too late to get my real estate license.

“Red Skelton,” I say with scorn.

“Oh,” says Marla, now softly. “That’s right. Red Skelton. Was he an Impressionist?”

“Yes,” answers Bob. “He did impressions of clowns. He was funny.”

“I used to be funny,” says Jake. “Then I got married.”

“Your wife doesn’t know you’re funny Jake?” I ask.

He makes a face. “My wife doesn’t know I’m living.”

“How about you, Saul?” I ask. “Are you married?”

Slowly, Saul raises his head, waves me off and drops his head back to his chest.

“Saul,” I say, “if you don’t take part in the class, I’m going to have to ask you to bring your parents to school.”

“You’ll have to dig them up,” he replies.

I throw my hands in the air. “Oy!” I exclaim.

“You’re Yiddish?” asks Jake.

“The world’s Yiddish,” I tell him. “Who knows the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel?”

“The shlemiel spills the coffee on the shlimazel,” says Jake.

“OK,” I say, “now how many of you know that one of the leading Impressionists — Pissarro — was a Jew?”

No response. Nothing. Nada. Bubkes. Maybe I could become a plumber. I already have a wrench. I know I saw one somewhere in the garage, I think, a month ago.

Two hours later, I’m exhausted. One last time, I explain how much the Impressionists believed in themselves and what they were trying to accomplish.

“OK,” I say, “what have we learned today? Nellie?”

“Nothing,” she says, cheerfully.

“Nothing? I’m up here talking for two hours, and you’ve learned nothing?”

“We remember nothing,” says Molly.

“Yeah,” says Ray. “Don’t take it so personal.”

Oh. OK. Surely, the West Valley could absorb one more real estate agent.

“What about you, Vivian?” I ask. “Tell me one thing you’ve learned about the Impressionists.”

“Stick to your guns,” she says.

“Thank you,” I cry.

On the TV monitor, the video is now showing breathtaking paintings of the French countryside. One last try.

“Has anyone here ever been to France?” I ask.

“France would be a great place without the French,” says Jake.

“Anyone else?” I ask.

Like an ancient tortoise, Saul lifts his head, and staring off into the beyond, mutters under his breath, “I’ve been to France.”

“Hallelujah! Tell us about it, Saul. Did you go to the museums?”

“I was on the beach,” he says to his feet.

“The Riviera, Saul? Girls? Bikinis? Ooh-La-La?”

“We landed in the water,” he says. “All my friends around me were shot. The water was blood. I was on the beach.”

The room goes extra silent, the only sound the air conditioning. My hero lowers his head back to his chest, but not before my eyes meet his. I am 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and I think I am going to cry.

Wildman Weiner is a credentialed teacher of older adults.

Jack and Katy Seror: Help Knows No Age


At first glance, 87-year-old Jack seror and his wife, Katy, are a kind, yet unassuming elderly couple, members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel and loving grandparents. However, they are also leaders of the Greek Jewish community that resisted and survived the Nazis to build flourishing new families in America.

Founders of the Sephardic Holocaust Committee, which still holds annual events that draw up to 350 people, Jack seror has also served as chairman of the synagogue’s fundraising unit, the Living Memorial Committee and the senior citizen group for more than 20 years. His wife has served as president of the sisterhood and oversaw the Activities Committee.

The serors cite their war experiences as a major motivation for their intensive commitment to community service. Jack seror’s work in the Greek resistance molded his desire to continue to help those in need. He and Katy met while working for the British government in Greece after the war. Later, Katy seror used her knowledge of English to accompany Greek refugees in the United States to hospitals and banks as a translator.

Although she suffered a stroke a few years ago and her husband does most of the talking, it is clear that his words speak for them both. He describes their reception in Boston by the Jewish Family Service as “so impressive … it brought tears to our eyes.”

Their first landlady thought that the serors were non-Jews, because they spoke Greek, Ladino and English but no Yiddish.

“So,” seror said, “I cried out, ‘Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad,’ and then she believed that we were Jews.”

The landlady helped the serors adjust to America, but the harsh winters and sweltering summers were oppressive, and the serors moved to Los Angeles in 1951. They set off with a firm goal in mind: to take their turn helping others, as the families in Boston had helped them.

Two and a half decades ago, the serors sold their successful grocery business and devoted their time to becoming involved in community service. They spearheaded daily senior citizen events for survivors from Salonica and Rhodes.

The annual Holocaust memorial services take an immense amount of planning and have become one of the largest Sephardic gatherings for remembering the Holocaust’s effects on Mediterranean Jewry. Speakers, such as Israeli officials and Danish resistance members, fly in from around the globe. The serors are no longer at the forefront of the organizing.

“We are too old now,” he said with a laugh. “I do not even drive. But we still have a havurah meeting once a month to discuss the parasha or have dinner. And we get together with our friends. We are happy to see the synagogue grow to 800 families. This is very special to us, who saw 96 percent of the Greek community perish in the Holocaust.”

When complimented upon their inspirational story and actions, seror brushes off personal recognition.

“You should try to help Israel as much as you can, be dedicated to your temple and try to help people … not for a reward but just to make a difference.”

MORE MENSCHES

Senior Moments – Great-Grand Marshal


As I walked through the grounds at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), I noticed a man in a wheelchair reading a magazine. It was called “Life Extension.”

I had to laugh. Someone must have strategically placed this magazine, like a prop, for the interview I was about to conduct. Talk about life extension! My subject, Sylvia Harmatz, could be the poster child. She’s 107 years old.

And for the sixth year in a row, Harmatz will be grand marshal of the Dec. 4 Walk of Ages, a 5K walk/run to raise funds for the JHA’s vital services.

She called JHA “a haven for people who have nowhere’s else to stay, like me. I sometimes wonder how in the world can they like so many people? They are so good to everyone!”

Since so many people seem interested in living forever, Harmatz is, of course, repeatedly asked: “What’s your secret?”

She smiles sweetly, showing great patience: “I don’t know.”

She doesn’t eat meat, but she does like candy, “because I need something to replace the meat.”

I told her my 14-year-old son would like that strategy. She laughed.

We sat a moment, and then Harmatz said, “You know, my husband lived to 104.”

In fact, Sylvia and Louis Harmatz were married for 80 years.

“He was very much in love with me,” she told me, with a smile.

I said maybe it was love, not a special diet, that contributed to their longevity.

“I think so,” Harmatz agreed. “We were very close. He wanted to be with me all the time. He never walked with me that he didn’t hold my hand. He was afraid I was going to run away from him, because I always walked so fast!”

The couple, who met at a dance in Brooklyn, married in 1921. They continued to love dancing and had a chance to waltz together after they moved to the JHA in 1994.

“We were always together,” Harmatz recalled. “He used to get up at night and cover me [with a blanket], to make sure I wouldn’t catch a cold. He took care of me. And I don’t know why, because I was always very strong and independent. I guess he noticed that I needed to be taken care of. When he passed away, I reassured him that I wouldn’t be long, that I’d be coming to meet him soon. But it hasn’t been that way.”

Harmatz laughed, but looked a little sad.

Born in Hungary in 1898, her earliest memories are of her father, a rabbi.

“He took me everywhere with him,” she said. “And I remember him teaching the children who couldn’t speak Hungarian, so they could learn too. I loved to sit and listen to him.”

Harmatz had her fourth birthday on board the ship to America.

Life was hard in this new country, says Harmatz, but she has fond memories of her parents’ relationship.

“My mother was very beautiful and they were very much in love. I used to know when they were going to have relations because [my father] used to leave his yarmulke on the bed.” Harmatz said with a laugh. “He was telling my mother, ‘Don’t forget, I’ll be there tonight!'”

Her father died at 42, leaving his wife with nine children. Harmatz started working at 13 to help out, then went to night school to become a nurse.

After marriage, she became a homemaker, raising the couple’s two daughters. There are now five grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.

In 1935, Sylvia and Louis decided to come West, and settled in Hollywood. “I used to go downtown for seven cents on the Red Car!” Harmatz said.

Her political involvement as an avid Democrat goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt. “Politics was my piece de resistance!” said Harmatz, who would go door-to-door seeking donations. “I knocked at a door once and [asked for] a dollar. The woman says, ‘No I’m a Republican.’ So I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, all you have to do is change your affiliation!'”

One thing that pleases Harmatz about being the grand marshal is riding in a convertible. In fact, last year when it rained on the parade, someone suggested they put up the top, but Harmatz wanted it left down.

“I’m not a fussy person, but I do like a red convertible,” she said, laughing. I asked her if red is her favorite color. “Yes, I like red. In fact, I’m going to be buried in a red dress with polka dots.”

Harmatz has been interviewed by CNN, local newspapers and radio stations. I asked if she likes being a celebrity.

“It’s not important to me,” she said. “I like it because it’s helping the Home. I want the Home to have everything they need. They asked me, ‘What do you want for all your trouble?’ I said, ‘I want a little plaque that says: You too can be involved.'”

For registration and sponsorship for Walk of Ages VI, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org.

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me at Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net and www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.

 

Senior Moments – Proudly Jewish in ‘Sunset’


Within the first moments of the comedy/drama “Sunset Park,” I wanted to get to know Sheila Oaks, who plays widowed mother

Evelyn Horowitz two nights a week at the Zephyr Theatre. Something about Oaks' authentic, sensitive portrayal of a 70-something New York Jewish woman made me curious.

It turns out that Oaks also is a hard-working speech pathologist. And, most inspiring, she's a 68-year-old who continues to discover herself as a professional, a woman, and a human being.

Oaks grew up in Brooklyn and inherited a passion for singing and the theater from her parents: “My father took me regularly to see theater and to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for classes. My mother loved to sing, and we used to sing all the Broadway show tunes together.”

At 8 years old, Oaks first appeared on stage in a talent show, where she sang “Swanee River” in blackface. She cringes at the political incorrectness, but it was the beginning of a love affair with performing. Oaks pursued her acting while also getting a psychology degree at University of Pennsylvania and a master's in speech pathology at Tulane. Her acting roles have included television, feature films and numerous stage productions on both coasts.

When I asked Oaks about playing Jewish roles, such as the one in “Sunset Park,” she recalled that her parents had explained the difficulties they sometimes faced as Jews. Her father was a chemist who often couldn't get hired because he was a Jew, and her mother constantly warned her children that they, too, might be treated unfairly.

“My mother was petrified of being Jewish,” Oaks recalls. “I heard all these stories and cautions from her, and I guess I took it to heart and adopted some of her fears.”

Oaks occasionally found herself worrying about how audiences would judge her for being Jewish or playing a Jewish character–which she did often in productions such as “Enter Laughing” or “Jake's Women.”

“I think at times I held myself back because I didn't want the audience to be put off. You know, people make comments about a woman being a 'Jewish princess' or about someone behaving 'too Jewish,' like it was something negative.”

None of this carried over in her work as a speech pathologist.

“Speech therapy isn't concerned with anyone's religion or color,” she says. “It's a very universal experience when someone stutters, or when someone has had a stroke. They all face the same challenges and those who work with them are very accepting.”

Oaks has managed to marry her passions for theatre and therapy.

“I love Viola Spolin's theater games and I've discovered they have great value in my speech therapy work,” she says. “When I've used some games with stroke patients with aphasia, words would pop out that they couldn't express through traditional approaches. And when I had stutterers do improvisation games, they could focus on a partner and stop judging themselves.”

Oaks works at The Help Group, treating children with autism spectrum disorders, and for Partners, Jewish Family Service's Adult Day Treatment on Santa Monica Boulevard, with seniors dealing with strokes, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease.

And yet, she still finds time for her acting.

“Sunset Park” director Mark Taylor remembers Oaks coming in to audition for the Inkwell Theater production.

“We knew she was right for the part of Evelyn when she walked in the door,” Taylor said. “Her mannerisms, her vulnerability, her voice were all perfect.”

The show — which because of double casting has six senior citizens playing three roles — began its second run in Los Angeles Oct. 14. During the summer, before the show reopened, Oaks found an old tape of her mother and herself singing.

“I thought of my mother in creating my role during the first run, trying to picture her and remember her,” Oaks said. “But I hadn't actually heard my mother's voice in 17 years. Hearing her voice evoked memories, like a Proustian thing when a smell can trigger old experiences. This truly impacted my performance as Evelyn. It gave my acting more colors.”

“I can just hear my mother: 'Oh, so you think what I say is funny? You're going to try to imitate me?'” she continued. “I said to her once that she was a Neil Simon character, and she said, 'You're making fun of me!' I said, 'No! Mother you are a gem!'”

And how does she feel, this time, playing a New York Jewish woman?

“I've grown so much in this role, in not holding back in fear of being judged by audience. It's really a universal character, with relationships and feelings that any woman could feel. But I'm so proud to portray it through a Jewish persona. I'm bringing my own ethnicity to the part; it's truly allowing me to honor my Jewish roots.”

“Sunset Park” by Marley Sims and Elliot Shoenman has been extended until Dec. 4. 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit ekzmail@adelphia.net or her Web site,

Seniors Seek Loving Hands, Home


When Arden Realty Chairman and CEO Richard Ziman’s elderly father was beginning to fade about 10 years ago, the father made a simple request.

“‘If I begin to lose it, take me there,'” said the father, as recounted by his son. “‘I will never be in better hands and with better people who will take better care of me.'”

Since 1912, those better hands have been at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. The elder Ziman found peace there in his final days, which is one reason Richard Ziman’s philanthropy continues to support the Reseda facility. Ziman, who chairs the Jewish Home’s capital campaign, is quick to note that Jewish elders need much more affordable and age-appropriate housing. That same point will be made on Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Jewish Home’s fifth annual Celebration of Life fundraiser. “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno will headline the event.

This elder-housing shortfall was underscored ironically by some positive news this fall — the September dedication of a single-family house for four residents. The converted home will join 13 nearby properties for independent-living seniors. The conversion, overseen by San Fernando Valley-based Montage Development, involved adding 800 square feet — expanding the house from two to four bedrooms — constructing an entry ramp and installing special knobs on all doors and cabinets.

As nice as it is, however, the refurbished home resolves the housing shortage for just four senior citizens. Ziman said that 20,000 to 35,000 additional units are needed for the Jewish elderly of greater L.A. and that some 5,000 to 7,000 units are acutely needed.

Apart from the Jewish Home, other subsidized housing for Jewish seniors includes the eight-story Fairfax Towers, just above the Fairfax-Santa Monica Boulevard intersection near West Hollywood. The 150-unit building is home to about 200 elderly Russian Jews.

Across the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley, another 14 buildings, with a combined 950 units, serve Jewish and non-Jewish seniors through the nonprofit Menorah Foundation, which is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Altogether it’s not nearly enough, said Stanley Treitel, executive director of the United Housing and Community Services Corp., which runs the Fairfax Towers. “Right now seniors are living in other types of senior housing or they live by themselves or they live in rent-controlled apartments.”

Much of the need, Treitel said, is for affordable, assisted-living facilities or for places that allow seniors to transition from independent to assisted living.

“When people age in place,” he said, “they need to move from independent living to assisted living.”

The Jewish Home is trying to develop along those lines with its Alzheimer’s/dementia unit. Of course, not every Jewish senior wants a facility that is particularly focused on Jews, but many seniors feel especially comfortable in such a place. And these facilities incorporate knowledge of Jewish culture and religious practices into the way they operate.

Creating any kind of senior housing has become especially difficult in Southern California’s exploding real estate market, where developers prefer more profitable projects.

“There’s no money in it,” said Yolande Erickson, a staff attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, where 80 percent of her clients are elderly. “Real estate is too valuable today. Anybody buying a building would want to get rid of the low-paying tenants.”

The Jewish Home can care for 1,000 residents at its Reseda nursing care facilities, two on-campus villages and nearby homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Currently there are about 400 residents in nursing care and another 400 in the residential units, said Jewish Home CEO Molly Forrest. Another 370 people are on the home’s two-to-three-year waiting list, of which about 239 are likely to be accommodated within the next year.

“We could easily double our size and just begin to address … the plight of seniors needing secure housing,” Forrest said.

Despite having a Westside funding base through its active, 2,500-member donor group, The Guardians, the nonprofit Jewish Home operates with an annual “multimillion dollar” budget shortfall, said Ziman, who has a ready pitch for potential donors.

“It’s part of the Fifth Commandment — ‘Honor Thy Father and Mother,'” Ziman said. “There is a woefully deficient number of residential units for the aging Jewish population. Most people aren’t aware that [so much of] that population is either impoverished or has significant food, shelter and basic necessity needs.”

Celebration of Life — Reflections: 2005 will take place in the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Tickets are $350. For information, call Corey Slavin at (818) 774-3031 or corey.slavin@jha.org.

 

Who Will Care for the Caregivers?


About five years ago, Nina Dayan noticed that her husband’s moods began alternating between anger and depression. Then her husband started doing strange things: He would hide her keys, steal money from her purse and share his social security number with strangers on the phone.

Eventually, his Alzheimer’s disease was confirmed. The diagnosis explained her husband’s strange behavior, but it didn’t make things any easier for Dayan. She remained on constant guard to ensure he didn’t answer the phone, open the mail or touch the checkbook.

“I had to sleep with one eye open,” said Dayan, 77. “It was making me a nervous wreck.”

Although she was suffering from her own ailments, including back and knee problems, Dayan’s caregiving prevented her from seeking medical attention for her own ailments. Dayan’s actions illustrate the approach taken by most caregivers: Ironically, those who devote themselves to caring for others tend to neglect their own well-being.

“Caregivers take themselves out of the circle of care in order to focus on their loved one,” said Gary Barg, founder and editor-in-chief of Today’s Caregiver magazine. “We want to make sure our loved ones are getting the rest they need, but we never sleep. We want to make sure our loved ones get the care they need, but when’s the last time a caregiver ever went to a doctor?”

This topic and others will be explored at The Los Angeles Fearless Family Caregiver Conference in Carson on June 28, sponsored by Today’s Caregiver magazine along with the City of L.A. Department of Aging and the L.A. County Area Agency on Aging. Keynote speaker Barg said the conference will not only provide practical information for attendees, but help them overcome the sense of isolation so typical of caregivers.

Given the sheer number of caregivers in the United States, the issue of caregiver well-being presents a serious challenge. According to AARP, more than 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to friends and family. That number will continue to rise as the population ages. Currently, family caregivers provide about 80 percent of the assistance required by those who need help with daily activities such as bathing and dressing, taking medications and paying bills.

Caregivers span all ages, although statistically the average caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who is married and employed outside the home. Caregivers may tend to someone older, like a parent; close in age, such as a spouse; or younger, like a child. Sometimes, as in the case of the sandwich generation, they provide care to multiple generations simultaneously.

Whatever their particular situation, caregivers face a host of common challenges, including financial and legal issues, need for respite and lack of information about existing community resources such as counseling services, adult day care centers and home-health care agencies. In addition, they experience depression at twice the rate of the general population. (The rate jumps to six times for caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other brain-related impairments.)

Barg said the gathering shows caregivers that “there are other people in the community going through what you’re going through. It’s important to be around others.”

Barg also urges caregivers to see their role as a job, even if it is a labor of love. This entails learning as much as possible, attending conferences and support groups and communicating with members of the patient’s health care team.

“The more you treat yourself as a professional and the more you care for yourself, the better job you can do for your loved one,” he said.

As for Nina Dayan, she found help at the Eichenbaum Health Center at the Freda Mohr Senior Service Center on Fairfax Boulevard. In addition to exercising there three times a week, Dayan attends lectures and programs and participates in a support group for people whose spouses have Alzheimer’s.

Eight months ago, Dayan placed her 85-year-old husband in an assisted living facility in Santa Monica.

“I took care of him until I couldn’t anymore, and had to take care of myself,” she said. She has since undergone cataract surgery on both eyes, and will have knee replacement surgery this month.

Dayan said her husband has adjusted to his new living arrangement and has made many friends. Now, he spends his day socializing instead of bickering with her. She still worries about his health and her own, as well as how long her finances will hold out. But her relief at finding an interim solution is apparent. As Dayan puts it, “I’m breathing again.”

The L.A. Fearless Family Caregiver Conference will take place on Tuesday, June 28, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at The Carson Center. 801 East Carson St., Carson. For more information or to register, call (800) 829-2734 or visit www.caregiver.com.

Caregiver Resources:

California Caregiver Resource Centers: www.cacrc.org/californiacrc

AARP: www.aarp.org

Family Caregiver Alliance: www.caregiver.org

Jewish Family Service: www.jfsla.org

 

Seniors Flock to OASIS of Learning


“Make the shape of a U with your hips,” coaches belly-dancing teacher Elexa Williams. Her students willingly comply, rolling their shoulders, gyrating their torsos and undulating their hips as they follow the teacher’s example. Around their waists, the participants wear scarves adorned with rows of coins, and as they move, the room fills with a rhythmic jingling sound.

Down the hall, students peer intently at computer screens, struggling to learn the nuances of sending e-mails and creating documents in Microsoft Word.

OASIS, a program offering educational, enrichment and volunteer opportunities. Part of a national network, OASIS in Los Angeles is a program of Jewish Family Service, and is co-sponsored by Robinsons-May, the Los Angeles Department of Aging and the Westside Pavilion.

OASIS provides an eclectic array of classes, many of which are free. Fitness fans can choose among such options as chair exercise, yoga and karate. Art buffs can study French and American impressionism or drawing. Others can explore Jewish spirituality, analyze Shakespeare or play guitar. Some of the classes are even taught by retired professors from UCLA and USC. And seniors who wish to travel can choose among a variety of day excursions and extended trips.

“I think OASIS is wonderful because they have so much to offer,” said Aura, a 72-year-old participant in the belly-dancing class. She also takes “The Rabbi Speaks,” with Rabbi Michael Resnick, and a bridge class, which she said “works the aging matter in your brain.”

“OASIS provides learning and growth opportunities for active people who live at home,” program director Victoria Neal said. “It’s a progressive alternative for those who might feel like they’re with old people’ when they attend senior centers or meal programs.”

Neal estimates that between 1,200 and 1,500 individuals ranging in age from 60 to 95 attend classes at OASIS’ Westside locations each week. Most Westside classes meet within OASIS’ warren of classrooms inside the Robinsons-May at the Westside Pavilion. Others meet in community rooms within the shopping center. Satellite locations include the Farmers Market, Park La Brea, Workmen’s Circle and Jewish Family Service’s Pico-Robertson Storefront and Freda Mohr Multiservice Center on Fairfax. In Woodland Hills, classes are offered in conjunction with Pierce College through the Encore-OASIS program.

The national OASIS program was founded in 1982 in St. Louis by educator Marylen Mann and Margie Wolcott May of the May department store family.

“They wanted to create a program fostering wellness, companionship and vitality for mature adults,” Los Angeles OASIS assistant director Rachelle Sommers Smith said. “They didn’t feel that existing programs offered sufficient stimulation for retired people.”

OASIS is now available in 26 cities nationwide.

For the past five years, Fanny Behmoiras, 66, has been making a weekly trek to Pico-Robertson from Encino to attend the life history writing class.

“I come rain or shine,” said Behmoiras, who has written 153 vignettes, including those describing her family’s flight from Cuba in 1961. During this session, she shares her account of the joy of her grandson’s bar mitzvah, followed days later by the anguish of losing a cherished family member.

Her instructor, Bea Mitz, explains that participants write their memoirs to leave a history for their children and grandchildren. “They do this so that whoever follows will not have to say, ‘I didn’t ask … I wish I knew.'”

Bella Haroutunian, 73, follows life history with an intermediate computer class.

“I started a year ago,” Haroutunian said. “I had very little knowledge about computers, and I wanted to write my memoirs.”

Now she uses the computer not only to compose her life story, but also to e-mail friends and family and research her upcoming trip to Europe and Russia.

It makes me feel that I’m a little bit up-to-date,” she said. “Before, I felt that I was so behind on this technology.”

Neal says many OASIS participants explore new hobbies or careers through the program.

“They’re doing what they love to do and never had a chance to do,” she said.

OASIS also provides volunteer opportunities for seniors, who help keep the program running. Ruth Morraine, 94, has been volunteering twice a week since 1991, assisting with clerical and bookkeeping tasks. She doesn’t seem at all daunted by the need to take a taxi and two buses to reach her destination. As Morraine says, “Age is just a number, honey.”

For more information, visit or call (310) 475-4911, ext. 2200 (Westside); (818) 710-4163 (Woodland Hills); (323) 298-7541 ext. 2517 (Baldwin Hills); (310) 547-0090 (San Pedro) or (562) 601-5010 (Long Beach/Lakewood).

The Tale of the Allergist’s Mother


Shirl Bernheim is sitting in her dressing room at the Ahmanson Theatre, her cane tucked in a corner, preparing to transform herself into the hilariously fierce Jewish mama of Charles Busch’s hit play, "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife."

"I’m getting fapitzed," she says an hour before showtime, patting her blue-white hair and sounding like everyone’s kindly bubbe. Then she shoots a withering look at her costumes. "Here are the shmattes they make me wear," she says with disgust. "The most awful-looking dreck."

It’s the kind of blunt, spunky dig Bernheim has perfected as Frieda, who makes verbal mincemeat of her snobby but famished daughter, Marjorie (Valerie Harper) in Busch’s comedy.

Bernheim, 80, demonstrates the same tough-cookie pluck by performing seven shows a week despite crippling arthritis. But don’t make a big megillah about her age. "So it hurts me, so I get tired, so what?" she says. "I wanted to do this play, whatever it took, because I figured maybe it was my last chance."

When Bernheim — whose previous credits include the off-Broadway "Old Lady’s Guide to Survival" — hobbled into the "Allergist" audition, she wasn’t faking the limp. She’d been out of work for a year after being hit by a car in December 1998, undergoing surgery and three months in a rehabilitation facility. "I thought I’d never walk again, never work again," says the actress, who is divorced with no children. Then her agent sent her the "Allergist" script and she (figuratively) jumped at the chance to audition.

Busch was instantly impressed. "We’d seen some famous actresses, but they were all putting on ‘old’ or making Frieda weepy when it’s only funny if that old lady is lethal," he told The Journal. "Then Shirl walked in on her own cane and she just seemed like the real thing."

Bernheim went on to earn rave reviews (and some of the play’s biggest laughs) with outrageous one-liners such as asking Marjorie’s enigmatic childhood pal (Michele Lee) if she’s a Jew for Jesus. Another quintessential Frieda moment: Telling Marjorie, who’s proposed a trip to Germany, to have pleasant dreams on "pillows stuffed with Jewish hair."

Then there’s the rapid-fire monologue in which the character describes an outraged letter she’s written to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, signed "Hymie from Hymietown." "It’s a bete noire, a black beast," Bernheim says. "It’s hard to enunciate with my dentures."

Nevertheless, her bravura performance prompted Back Stage West to proclaim: "If there’s any justice in this business, this role will propel Bernheim into late-blooming stardom."

Bernheim’s arduous journey began early. As a kid in the Bronx, Bernheim’s mother shlepped her to audition at every radio station in New York. By her late teens, she was studying with the esteemed Russian drama teacher Maria Ouspenskaya. "She wasn’t impressed with me," Bernheim recalls. "She said, ‘Shirl, your voice limits you.’"

When Bernheim’s father, a furrier, heard Ouspenskaya’s assessment, he cut off Shirl’s drama studies. A few years later, the actress married and didn’t step onstage again until her 40s, venturing into a Queens, N.Y., community theater. She finally made her professional debut in a play called "Stag Movie" in 1970: "I played the towel lady in this place where a little Jewish man was shooting dirty pictures," she says. "I was the only person who didn’t take her clothes off."

It took 30 more years for Bernheim to land the role of a lifetime in "Allergist," although the part isn’t without challenges. "The first act for me is always traumatic, because I have a problem getting centered with all the tsuris I have to think about," she says. "So what I try to do is separate that Shirl from the actor, and then I imagine Frieda in her apartment, and I’m transported there, and I’m unhappy, and I’m just waiting to go visit my daughter down the hall."

Bernheim says she identifies with Frieda because "she’s a woman living alone, though I envy her because she has a daughter and a son-in-law and I don’t."

But the play has allowed the actress to forge some surrogate mother-daughter relationships. Costar Lee took her to lunch on Mother’s Day and inspired the audience to sing "Happy Birthday" to Bernheim on her 80th.

Harper, who’s lost her mother and stepmother, says she signed Bernheim’s Chanukah gift, "I love you, Mama."

"The show is exhausting, but Shirl performs with such energy," Harper said.

How does Bernheim accomplish that at 80? "I tell myself, ‘Don’t intellectualize, just do it!,’" she says while starting to fapitz herself in her dressing room. "Because if I hocked it a tchynick, I’d never succeed."

Transit Torment


It all began a minute past midnight on Sat., Sept. 16, with a negotiations breakdown between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and bus and rail operator unions. Hundreds of thousands of L.A. commuters, many of whom depend on city buses for their livelihood, were forced to find alternative methods of transportation. Among the nearly 450,000 bus passengers affected by the strike are members of the Jewish community, particularly some senior citizens for whom everyday life has been disrupted.

On Fairfax Avenue, a cursory poll of how seniors were coping with this strike revealed many who were either directly or indirectly inconvenienced.

“Absolutely,” says an older gentleman coming out of Fairfax Stationery, walking with the aid of a cane. “I have to walk around everywhere. I can’t get any place.”

Trembling with emotion, the man, who preferred not to be identified, says that he is dependent on the MTA system, particularly the Fairfax 217 and Melrose 10 lines, to do his weekly errands. While the limited DASH system has come in handy for many seeking transportation, in his case it is not as convenient as the city bus, since the DASH bus turns off at Third Street.

At agencies assisting lower-income Jews, viewpoints vary on the strike’s impact. Some organizations report a decline in activity.

“We have a meal site where they can come in for lunch five days a week,” reports Sandra Solomon, director of the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center in the Fairfax district. “We’re getting less people than usual. The attendance there is down.”

Rosalie Fromberg, director of the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk, confirms a similar situation.

“We have people who come on a regular basis for lunch and can’t get here,” says Fromberg. “They come down for lunch and activities as well.”

Solomon has been offering taxi vouchers for some seniors, but this is a temporary and finite solution for the center and its limited resources. “We’re helping with transportation as best we can,” she says.

At Israel Levin, many coming from the L.A. area depend on buses. Some are carpooling, but Fromberg says that “it’s hard when people don’t live in the same area. This center does not provide transportation, so it’s really difficult. People at the center are concerned that it’s really affecting the community. Our seniors don’t have to worry about going to work, but their contact with our center is very important to them.”

Margaret Dacey, director of the Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center, says, “We’ve had a lot of people not being able to get where they’re going. A woman called a taxi that takes coupons, and when the driver came, he wouldn’t take the coupon and would only take her a quarter of the way home, as long as her cash would take her. She got a ride the rest of the way home from a good Samaritan.”

Dacey adds that long waits for cabs have complicated matters.

“With our staff it’s affected us in that quite a few people have been car pooling or getting rides from family,” said Shelly Ryan, chief of human resources for Jewish Home for the Aging. Out of the 650 people employed by the Home’s two sites, only one employee, who lives in the outskirts of Glendale, has been forced to stay home.

“Out of 650 people, to only have one employee be affected is a very good thing,” said Ryan, who also adds that the staff has been very diligent about finding transit solutions to the strike.

“It shows their dedication to coming in and being here,” she said.

Staff at other institutions say that the MTA strike has had little effect on their daily operations. According to Pamela Boro, director of the Silverlake Los Feliz JCC, the strike has not been an issue, nor has it caused stress for those utilizing Jewish Family Service of Santa Monica.

“I know that a lot of our clients do rely on buses to get to their appointments,” said Paul Castro, director of Jewish Family Service of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I haven’t specifically heard any feedback from our facilities. I know that it’s got to be an issue, particularly for our senior clients.”

Si Frumkin, chairman of Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, says that he is not aware of people within L.A.’s Russian community whose lives have been disrupted by the strike. He speculates that most Russian seniors reside in close-knit circles where everything is in walking distance.

“Those who live in West Hollywood, their cultural life is Plummer Park and stores on Santa Monica Boulevard,” says Frumkin.

However, Alla Feldman, project coordinator of the Immigrant Department at The Jewish Federation, found that some Russian immigrants have experienced difficulty this holiday season.

“I had people who would come to pick up High Holiday tickets,” said Feldman. “I had to drop them back.”Feldman said that recent immigrants and senior citizens are the two groups within her Russian constituents that have been most directly sidelined by the strike. She even knows of one family that “refused to go to High Holiday services because bus line No. 4 doesn’t go there.”

Elliott Cavalier, the recently appointed director of Sephardic Educational Center, said that elderly members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s sisterhood have often been grounded by the strike.

Meanwhile, back on Fairfax Ave., in the hours leading up to erev Rosh Hashanah, Diamond Bakery was packed with a kind of ebullient chaos. Yet amid the high spirits and high-strung kvetching for apple turnovers and raisin challah, there were those who looked especially weary of preholiday shopping.A 69-year-old lady – no. 44 in line to be served – said the strike since the strike began, she has had no choice but to drive across town to pick up her housekeeper herself.

“I really think it’s criminal,” the woman said as she exited the bakery.

Fern Milken Sports & Youth Complex


If anyone doubts the popularity of the new Fern Milken Sports & Youth Complex at the West Valley Jewish Community Center, just show up on any given weekday. The center, which used to attract primarily seniors, is now a hangout for youth of all ages, especially those with a love of shooting hoop.

It is a sight Eli Sherman, health and physical education director for the West Valley JCC, had dreamed of for years. He said the $4.5-million facility has increased participation in all areas, especially basketball. The 12,000-square foot auditorium is the setting for not only camp but ongoing classes, adult and youth leagues and open play times throughout the year. The Rita Room multipurpose room has given the center space to offer classes in fencing and table tennis. The interior lobby of the gleaming facility is home to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame with tributes to Jewish athletes, coaches and sports writers. Although not new, the pool and fitness areas continue to attract a daily round of regulars, mostly older adults, while high school students enjoy playing air hockey in the new teen lounge.

“We now have something for everybody,” Sherman said. “For a long time the center had the reputation of attracting either the very young or the older population. What has been missing is the young adults and the young families which are now coming in much greater numbers because of the variety programs we’re able to offer. It’s very exciting for us because the young families represent the future of the Jewish Community Centers in Los Angeles.”

According to West Valley JCC officials, the community center has experienced a 28 percent increase in the number of “member units” or paying members since the Sports & Youth Complex opened in December. Currently about 1,500 adults pay the additional fees on top of their JCC membership to belong to the Fitness Center; an estimated 200 children are signed up to take classes and participate in camping programs this summer.

The expansion of the JCC’s summer program is one of the biggest changes brought about by the new facility. This year the WVJCC will launch an ambitious program of specialty sports camps in five categories: basketball, gymnastics, soccer, tennis and dance. The dance camp will be taught by Laker girl Hope Wood and the basketball camp by former Harlem Globetrotter Sterling “Smooth” Forbes and Kelvin “Special K” Hildreth.

Another area the center staff hopes to promote with the new space is gymnastics. The WVJCC recently received a $25,000 grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation – the folks behind the Olympics – to purchase equipment. Sherman said he has already hired three gymnastic instructors and on Sunday, July 9, at 10 a.m. the center will host a gymnastics demonstration to showcase the new equipment which includes balance beams, tumbling mats and uneven parallel bars.

As participation in the center continues to grow, so does the need for services. Additional adult classes being offered this summer for the first time include Israeli folk dancing and Krav Maga. Center officials also plan to offer babysitting services for infants and children up to age 3, so parents of young children can swim or participate in classes and league activities. “We are able to offer a lot of new activities, a lot of nice things that could never have been possible without the new Fern Milken Sports & Youth Center,” Sherman said.

Sherman should know – he has been with the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles for 45 years. Some of the kids he coached on his first job at the Westside JCC are now middle-aged men with children of their own. He has seen many changes over the years in the Jewish community’s attitude toward fitness, the most dramatic concerning women and sports. As Sherman recalls, in the 1950s girls might participate in one of the popular swimming programs at the “J” or take gymnastics, but never team sports.”The girls back then were the cheerleaders,” he said. “Now as many girls as boys participate in sports. It’s partly a change in attitude, but I think it’s mostly because of television. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past four decades, it’s hard not to be affected by the marketing push to get sports into everybody’s life.”

Sherman said that talking about a sports hero in years past was like discussing “some biblical figure as far removed as Samson from real life.”
“Now every kid can talk about Kobe Bryant or the women of the WNBA,” he said.Although pleased with the new facility, Sherman said he wishes the center had the space to match some of the more impressive Jewish community centers in other parts of the country, such as the one in Cleveland that boasts running tracks, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and baseball fields.”Sadly, in Los Angeles, where we have the second largest Jewish community in the nation, we have never come near having the recreational facilities like you have back East or in the Midwest,” Sherman laments. “Plus in L.A. there’s a bank, a gas station and a fitness center on every corner, so we are in constant competition with the commercial clubs.”

The WVJCC is a part of the Bernard Milken Community Campus in West Hills, which also houses the Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance. The new Sports & Youth Center was a collaboration of the two entities, which joined forces to raise the money necessary to finish the project, although fundraising will continue, according to Rhonda Wilkens, director of the West Valley JCC.

“We are continuing the campaign as an endowment fund so that any time the center needs something, the money is there,” Wilkens said, adding that building maintenance is a high priority. “We want the center to continue to look and feel as beautiful, with state-of-the-art equipment, 20 years from now as it does today.”

Senior Seders


The Passover holiday contains countless traditions. There’s the matzah and the sweet wine, the charoset and haggadot, the gefilte fish and the good fortune we celebrate. But perhaps most importantly, there is the gathering together of family and friends — the people who make the singing, reading and eating around the seder table meaningful and special.

It is a fact not lost on the various directors who run L.A.’s Jewish senior and retirement homes. Each year these men and women organize seders for the elderly residents who may no longer have family or friends to join them. Full Passover menus are planned, dining rooms are decorated, the best silverware and glassware come out of the cupboards. And together the seniors sit down to a seder where they ask the Four Questions, recite the blessings and — yes — even sip the wine.

“Although some may have family, unfortunately many do not,” says Desiree Williams, the rental coordinator at Westwood Horizons near UCLA. “This is the only opportunity they have to be with folks of similar beliefs and continue the Passover tradition.”

For the most part, residents do not prepare the food as they once did in their own homes. Many are frail now, with little stamina. But to the seder table they bring an earnest desire to sing and help recount the Passover story. And in doing so, they find companionship in one another and in the staff members who assist them. This human element — the fact, at least, that they have each other — becomes as important an ingredient as the apples and nuts and hard-boiled eggs.

“There’s involvement,” says Williams. “And that’s the key. The interaction is there.”

At the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda, a “traveling microphone” will circulate through the dining room so that residents can participate in the service. According to Rabbi William Gordon, who will lead the seder, residents also make suggestions as to what should be on the menu.

It is, indeed, a fancy affair. Betty Brown, director of Food Services, plans to use real china and silverware, white and mauve tablecloths and strictly kosher ingredients. Flowers will adorn the tables and servers will wear black and white — “their gala uniform.”

Some residents leave the home to have Passover with family, but most remain. Family members are invited to join them there, says Rabbi Gordon, though “too few come.” This year, Brown and her staff will feed approximately 350 people for the first seder. Her menu includes matzah ball soup, gefilte fish balls, roast turkey, matzah stuffing, honeyed carrots, stewed fruit compote and sponge cake.

The average age of the residents is 90, says Rabbi Gordon. But that doesn’t stop them from following the paperbound haggadah that he and his wife, Deena, have compiled.

Age, however, does make a bit of difference at Stanford House, an independent and assisted living home at Olympic and Robertson Boulevards.

“Because of their age, they tend to be impatient,” says executive chef Jeffrey Cooper, who will lead the seder this year for 128 residents between ages 55 and 101. In 1998, during a 40-minute seder, “they were crawling the walls,” recalls Cooper with a laugh. Last year, he cut it down to 20 minutes. But this year he’ll try for half an hour — “short and sweet.”

The menu will be “kosher-style,” with gefilte fish made from scratch, matzah ball soup, asparagus and a choice of matzah-stuffed veal roast with demiglaze or Cornish hens with orange glaze. Then for dessert, residents will find a mouth-watering assortment of brownies, sponge cake with strawberries, baked apples with apricots and store-bought Passover candy.

Cooper ensures that all chametz is removed from his kitchen, and he fondly remembers one resident who helped him burn the bread crumbs each year. (The man passed away a few months ago at 97.)

“It’s very depressing,” says Alan Goldstein, director of Shalom Retirement Hotel in the Fairfax district. “Very few have family, so we have rabbis that come talk to them, and the staff is here to lend an ear. It’s important to be accessible,” he continues. “It’s like we’re one big family.”

Of the 150 residents between ages 65 and 100 who will attend this year’s seder at Shalom, approximately 70 percent used to make their own seders. Now, “a very sumptuous [kosher] menu” will be prepared for them, explains Goldstein. It will include matzah ball soup, salad, roast turkey, brisket, sweet potatoes and cake. And each person will receive his or her own seder plate.

Residents will light the candles, pour the wine and sing with the accompaniment of a live music ensemble — familiar activities for these seniors who celebrate Shabbat together each Friday night.

At Westwood Horizons, residents also regularly lead Shabbat services and will participate in the singing and reading for Passover as well. According to Desiree Williams, the rental coordinator, more than 200 residents are expected to attend the seder, and some have invited family members. Some may have aides with them at the table, but “the majority are on their own,” says Williams. “They develop friendships with one another.”

Seniors who wish to participate in a seder this year can also attend various community seders. The Jewish Home for the Aging will offer a second-night seder, which it expects will draw 450 people. The Westside Jewish Community Center will hold a first-night seder for 75 to 150 people. Both will feature kosher food.

While some families do attend, “most people who come don’t have anybody,” says Olga Moler of the Westside JCC. “They are mostly the elderly — those who are alone.” So transportation to and from the JCC will be available for a small fee.

Above all else, say the seder organizers, the goal is to create a warm, haimish environment for the elderly this Passover. For the seniors living in mostly Jewish retirement homes, “we do everything to accommodate that,” says Williams of Westwood Horizons. “It’s important for them to be in a Jewish community.”

The Jewish Home for the Aging Community Seder, April 20, 5 p.m., $35 for family members of residents; $50 for all other adults and seniors. Call (818) 774-3015 for reservations. Westside JCC Community Seder, April 19, 6:30 p.m., $25 for adults and $19 for senior members; $30 for adults and $24 for senior nonmembers. Call Olga Moler at (323) 938-2531 ext. 225 for reservations.

Use It or Lose It


The other day, an older client said to me, “I’ve reached that point in my life where the only thing I want to exercise is caution.”

Just because we’re getting older doesn’t mean we can slack off on exercise. You can choose to be 20-years-old or 50-years-young. The difference is often in how well we take care of ourselves — and that means exercise and eating right..

Throughout history our mere existence demanded a level of physical activity and movement that made resting time a luxury. Nowadays, we have become so sedentary that we need to exercise apart from our daily living. Most people do not fish, hunt or work the fields anymore. Nor do they walk or run long distances to work or chop down trees. Most of us sit while we work, travel and navigate through our daily activities. We therefore have a need to create “the exercise period.”

The same goes for what we eat. Thanks to modernization and industrialization, fast foods have become a part of our daily diet. Too bad, because diet has the unique distinction of being one of the few major health determinants that is completely under our control. You can’t always control the quality of the air you breathe, the noise you are subjected to or the emotional surrounding climate, but you can control what you eat.

The American food pyramid for the 50-plus population recommends the following daily portions:

A vitamin supplement with calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, all the B complex vitamins, vitamin E and Minerals (especially selenium). The use of fats, oils and sweets sparingly.

At least two 3 ounce servings of protein (including poultry, fish, beans, eggs or egg whites, nuts, soy, and less frequently meat)

2-3 servings of nonfat milk, cheese, yogurt.

At least 3 servings of cooked or raw vegetables.

6 (70 calorie) servings of high fiber, whole grain breads, cereals, rice, pasta.

At least 8 glasses of water.

In addition, small amounts of flaxseed and the use of green tea is also helpful. Obviously these new recommendations evolved to partially address the health related risks in an older population, including cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diverticulosis and anemia.

This modified pyramid coupled with a regular exercise program will help seniors get on the right track to health.

The five core elements of exercise for this group include:

Aerobic Conditioning. Aerobic fitness is the ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen more efficiently. Aerobic fitness can be influenced by heredity, age, gender and current body fat status. There are many ways that disease processes can interfere with the ability to reach this aerobic fitness. Individuals with emphysema and other lung diseases will be limited in the ability of the respiratory system to extract oxygen from the environment and deliver it to the blood. Those with heart disease will be limited by the ability of the heart to deliver oxygenated blood to the muscles being used. In addition, those with circulation problems will find it difficult to use certain muscles for exercise if blood cannot reach them when needed in greater demand. Your aerobic fitness program should be designed individually, taking into account various possible limitations. Examples of aerobic exercise include bicycling, use of a treadmill, outdoor walk/jog, cross country ski, stairmaster and step/dance aerobics. Your choice should be based on your abilities and limitations, but more importantly whatever brings great enjoyment. Remember, a warm up period before starting your activity as well as a cool down/ stretch period will protect you from annoying post exercise complications.

Strength and resistance training We can now, thanks to studies done in the last decade, emphatically state that muscular fitness tremendously impacts one’s health. Fit muscles increase muscle mass which in turn helps to burn fat. In addition, exercises that cause muscular development also help prevent the crippling bone demineralization known as osteoporosis. In this age population, strength and resistance training helps insure one’s independence and mobility in the coming retirement years The old adage “use them or lose them” has never been more important. Methods of this discipline include the use of free weights. This is the cheapest and most versatile application, however supervision is often needed for safety. Weight machines are another convenient option and require less supervision. If you are inexperienced, invest in several sessions with a trainer to familiarize yourself with the set up and use of the equipment. Make sure that the training session is appropriate to your age needs, level of fitness and abilities.

Flexibility This aspect of training focuses on altering the limits of motion imposed by connective tissue restriction and lack of muscle use. Injuries often occur due to decreasing flexibility in individuals. Low back pain specifically is commonly associated with poor back and hamstring flexibility as well as weak abdominal muscles. A warm up prior to stretching will help enhance muscle and joint flexibility. At minimum, stretching should take place for several minutes after aerobic or strength training.

Balance and agility Dancing, tai chi, martial arts and tennis are few enjoyable options that can help you in this area.

Stress Reduction Through yoga, tai chi, meditation, walking and swimming will round out the fifth component in the five core elements to long-term fitness and health.

Clearly there are specific eating plans and exercise programs to address individual health issues. Allied health professional with specific expertise can help in these areas. The reference books listed below can help you get started. But the important thing is to start, now. Getting older should be an adventure, not a problem.

Amy Hendel R-Pac, AFAA, IDEA is a certified personal trainer/nutritionist as well as a physicians assistant. She runs a private consulting firm “One on One Fitness” in Encino, Ca. She is also originator/coordinator of “Body Jam” a bootcamp and kickboxing facility in Encino.


Health Reference

Recommended reading and reference books for healthy aging:

“Natural Health, Natural Medicine” Andrew Weil, M.D.

“Fitness and Health” Brian J Sharkey, PhD

“ACSM Fitness Book,” 2nd Edition

Invisible People


This past summer I saw an old friend of mine in New York, a woman I had met shortly after arriving in the city years ago. On several occasions Nancy and I had worked together. Our conversation was warm, affectionate, biographical. Catching up on one another, as it were, and then onto the turns and curves in our friends’ lives.

There was a brief pause. And then suddenly, shifting direction, in a low, angry voice, she said to me: You know what I hate about growing old in New York? It’s how I have suddenly become invisible. At parties; in restaurants; walking through the streets. It’s infuriating and I can’t seem to do anything about it.

I was surprised at the intensity; but also at the statement itself. My friend Nancy is in her mid 60s; she is a successful documentary film-maker, with awards, accomplishments, friends. She had started out as a film editor, moved to camerawoman and director, and now had her own film company. She seemed always engaged in a project, always at work. Someone I would describe as an intelligent, active, attractive woman.

Then she laughed. You know, people my age are even invisible on television. Nowhere to be seen on “Friends” or “Sex and the City”; we’re visible only in nursing homes (“The Sopranos”) or dying in hospitals (“E.R.”). Do you think they’re trying to tell us something?

“Look, don’t blame me,” my TV writer friend Hilary said, when I confronted her on the subject the following week in L.A. “I write what the market wants. It doesn’t want sit- coms or dramas involving people over 60 because the advertisers won’t buy such programs. And they won’t buy them because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that older people have already settled on their consumer choices, whether they be cars, hair shampoo or breakfast cereal.”

In short, she concluded, ads are seen as not likely to alter their purchases. It doesn’t matter how many millions are out there. On TV, they’re mostly invisible. It is our hi-tech way of setting the elderly afloat on an ice raft.

Given the numbers, and the prediction that life expectancy will only increase, the tendency to set aside the over-60 or 65 part of the population strikes me as outrageous. And, not incidentally, a bit like shooting ourselves in the foot. In 1960, for example, there were approximately 16.7 million people in the United States over 65. In those days, the focus seemed to be on retirement — at least for those in the middle class who had planned and saved enough.

But much has changed these past 40 years. Life expectancy has jumped to 76 in America (In 1900 we were supposed to live out our lives by age 47). There are also now 34.5 million Americans over 65, with the anticipation that number will double within the next 30 years. What are we going to do with all these marginalized people? All these “invisible” men and women, a good number of whom are the wealthiest in our society?

Some of course will be “less than wealthy” and will require medical care and housing. They are likely to be a major fiscal burden on their children and the body public as well. That of course is one reason we do not want to see them, either on TV or in the flesh.

But the others, those in reasonable good health, are both consumers and potential contributors to our society. Today more of them are looking for ways to function productively — as teachers, volunteers, students, or beginners in a new career. They are also asking to be included, they want to become visible.

Obviously part of the responsibility rests with the “retirees” themselves, the post-65s. Some have already taken steps to become fully engaged participants. In our own community, Richard Gunther, 74, and a member of the Jewish Journal Board of Directors, has created a Legacy Award Program that the American Association of Retired People (AARP) has adopted. Under that program, grants along with recognition are made to senior volunteers around the country who are making significant contributions to their local community. In essence they serve as statewide models. Gunther reviews all the nominees and helps makes the final selection.

He is involved as well in several endeavors aimed at the 65-plus population and has pointed out (to, among others, Presidential candidate Albert Gore’s task force) programs that are presently underway. These include: Foster Grandparents, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Habitat for Humanity and Experience Corps.

All of these are directed at retirees viewed somewhat as a separate group. The broader, more structural aim, I hope, will include the rest of society as we try to utilize the mind and energy of our seniors. Here some of the control falls to those of us who are the gatekeepers, who control access to worlds both professional and social.

Years ago I owned a summer home in Stonington, Conn. It was a small (fewer than a 1,000 people) New England village perched on the water’s edge about five miles from Rhode Island. I was in my early 30s. And what I loved about my village life during those summers was that my friendships were filled with people who were contemporaries, but also who ranged in age from 21 to 80. During those years I attended weddings and funerals, listened to descriptions of Scott Fitzgerald from a classmate of his at Princeton, and to a narrative about Nathaniel West in Bucks County from one of my dearest friends, who began by telling me, “Pep West, I knew him well. He was my wife’s lover.”

My life was richer in large measure because the elderly were an integral, vivid part of it. As all of our lives can be. — Gene Lichtenstein

Down and Out in Beverly Hills?


Developer Ronald Weiner predicts that about 95 percent of tenants in his proposed senior-housing project would be Jewish.
Ronald Weiner sits on a bench in a serene Beverly Hills park on a perfect, sunny day, filled with rage and frustration. He’s shaking, his fingers tremble, and his voice cracks with every other sentence.

The source of his anger is the city in which he sits. For the past year, Beverly Hills has thwarted Weiner’s efforts to build a large senior-housing project on property he owns.

On April 30, the city’s Planning Commission refused to grant Weiner a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), which would enable him to build a 67-unit, four-story building on a quiet street lined with condos, small homes and apartments.

The commission cited the project’s excessive height and density and its lack of an adequate service alleyway and parking as the reasons for the rejection. “It was turned down because it was out of scale for the neighborhood,” commission head Ruth Nadel told The Jewish Journal.

Mention those reasons to Weiner, and he looks fit to explode. “Smoke screen!” he says. What the city is doing, he claims, is finding ways to keep much-needed senior housing outside its limits. “Beverly Hills is a city with 22 percent seniors [about 8,000], without a single senior-retirement home,” says Weiner. “They’ve constantly found ways to deny [senior-housing] projects.”

Weiner and his architects maintain that a three-story design could not accommodate the gardens, communal and recreational spaces necessary in such a project. Furthermore, he can’t understand why, after spending 3 1/2 years and $17,000 in city review fees, his project, which was approved by city fire, building and traffic inspectors, would be suddenly denied.

And, so, the battle between the wealthy Malibu-based developer and the bureaucracy of the Land of 90210 has turned murky, nasty and personal. Both sides expect the showdown to take place at the Sept. 3 City Council meeting, when city planners and angry Arnaz Drive residents will confront Weiner and his not-too-shabby group of supporters, ranging from eminent gerontologists to tenants-rights activists to at least one Jewish group. Given the makeup of the city’s senior population, says Weiner, “the building would probably be 95 percent Jewish.”

Weiner says that he spent 3 1/2 years and $150,000 developing plans for his property at 143-149 Arnaz Dr., two blocks east of Robertson Blvd. and a half block north of Wilshire Blvd. He funded a three-volume, 600-page study — headed by architect Victor Regnier, with input from Jon Pynoos, professor at the USC Andrus Gerontology Center — which spelled out the ideal site, design and programming for a senior “congregate care building.”

As designed by noted architect Stephanos Polyzoides — whom the city itself employed to help redesign its downtown core — Weiner’s project features an airy dining room, kosher kitchen, exercise room, numerous gardens and terraces, a beauty salon, physicians office and other public spaces clustered along with spacious one- and two-bedroom apartments. Amenities include daily social activities, exercise classes, Shabbat and Jewish holiday services, and excursions– all at a location within walking distance to businesses, bus stops and shopping. Few housing options such as this exist for senior Westside residents, Pynoos wrote in a June 24 letter to the planning commission, and “virtually none” exist in Beverly Hills.

“This is a very good project for us,” says Shahrokh Keywanfar, a representative of the Iranian Jewish Senior Center. He expects many Iranian Jewish seniors to be among Weiner’s first customers.

Monthly rates at such facilities, which include maid service and three daily meals, typically begin at around $3,000.

Planning officials suggest that numbers like that are the real reason for Weiner’s senior crusade. But Weiner insists that his interest in providing housing for the elderly developed after he found himself taking care of a longtime friend, Leah Feingold, who had trouble finding a suitable place to live. Besides, says Weiner, his property is zoned for luxury condominium development, which could be just as lucrative. In response to a planning commission request that he set aside at least three units for low-income seniors, Weiner pledged to set aside 20.

Still, residents of Arnaz Drive have loudly protested Weiner’s project. “He’s going to ruin this street,” one Israeli-born man, who declined to give his name, told The Journal. Weiner’s plan calls for razing the four separate apartment buildings that now occupy each of the lots and, in their place, constructing a single four-story building. Residents fear that the building, which will abut Wilshire Boulevard office towers on the south and a quiet pocket park to the east, will bring more traffic and strain services such as sewer lines. What Weiner calls “NIMBY-ism at its worst,” commissioner Nadel calls “the democratic process.”

Nadel points with pride to the city’s 150-unit low-income senior-housing project on Crescent Drive, built on prime city-owned land adjacent to the business triangle, as evidence of their interest in serving seniors. She says that one other senior-congregate-housing project, on Clark Drive, is currently under consideration.

That’s not enough, says Herm Shulz, another Weiner supporter. “Crescent Drive took years and years to get,” he says. “Nothing preceded it, and nothing may come after it.” The 75-year-old head of Concern for Tenants Rights of Beverly Hills has accused city officials of finding any excuse to shoot down senior-housing projects. Weiner can “call their bluff” and modify the project dimensions, says Shulz. “But that’s not the real reason for their denial. They want to put seniors in the commercial zones.”

The lack of adequate housing for seniors, which Nadel and Arlington acknowledge is a crisis “for the whole Westside,” means that longtime Beverly Hills residents often need to leave their community when they can no longer live by themselves. “A lot of our seniors have to go to L.A. to find a place to live,” says Keywanfar.

Neither side knows which will emerge victorious from this week’s de novo hearing in council chambers. Earlier this year, the council overturned the commission’s approval of a construction project on Tower Drive that inspired a public outcry spearheaded by the actor Jack Lemmon.

If the council turns down the project, Weiner — with no small sense of vengeance — says that he intends to build his legally allotted 37 units of luxury condos on the site, setting aside 20 percent of them for low-income tenants. Under state mandate, the city would have to subsidize these seven units. If that plan works, the city will end up paying $1.7 million to support seven tenants, “when it could have housed 80 seniors at no cost to itself,” says Weiner. Earlier this week, the city attorney called for an immediate meeting with Weiner when he was apprised of the plan.

Though he says that the effort has left him “emotionally battered” and resulted in two hospital stays, Weiner has made good on his promise to make his crusade equally public. “We just want to fill a need that’s out there,” he says.

From Sexuality to Sensuality


There we were, my family, 11 anarchists cruising down to Ensenada for four days on the Viking Serenade, celebrating my mother’s 85th birthday. I roomed with the birthday girl in one of those cabins where you have to yell, “Watch out!” when you exit the lavatory.

When we returned, I drove my mother to Senior Summer School at UC Santa Barbara. Riding down in the elevator, after bringing her suitcases up to her dormitory room, I said, kiddingly: “In your room before 11 p.m., write home but don’t come home, and don’t tell me about your sex life.” My mother laughed like a teen-ager along with the other women who were on their way to the cafeteria.

I looked at these zesty women and thought that cuddling — the socially acceptable sex life for a senior — was on their short list of sexy things to do. They were free, finally, of all that bound them to the conventions of their youth, and they were freed by their age, not by reading Erica Jong.

So when my editor suggested that I write about sex from the older perspective rather than a column about the family cruise, I cringed. When I wrote about seniors for the Los Angeles Times, every so often I was tempted to write a piece about sex and seniors. “What’s to write?” I asked myself. “What could possibly be the difference between the senior class and the freshman?” There certainly were a lot of similarities: drug problems, body self-consciousness, feelings of inadequacy, hair problems. “Must I be trapped in the problem prism? Wasn’t anyone having fun in bed?”

Then I interviewed Harold Mitchell, married more than 50 years to the same woman. I met him at a conference at USC’s Andrus Gerontology Center. Harold had a passion for life. He would be considered seductive for any age. I told him so. He told me that he was still courting his wife. He said that though the intimacies may be fewer, they are no longer rushed for the sake of reaching orgasm. And that’s how the conversation went, and I wrote it, and the Times published it.

Harold is among the 40 percent of people 65 and older who are sexually active. He said that he felt relieved after all these years to be less oriented toward sexual performance and more attuned to sensuality. In fact, he said that he felt ever-youthful because of how much longer it took to attain satisfaction. “Isn’t that what we always wanted when we were younger?” he asked.

Was it? I’m glad somebody was conscious. I was too busy being promiscuous. I can’t even conceive of how I would have turned out if my mother were a hippie or if boys read “Iron John” instead of “The Amboy Dukes” while I read “Forever Amber” and “Tropic of Cancer.” I had to travel to Europe for my sexual rebellion.

Now, kids rent a video, stay home and try to avoid catching their tongue studs on a pillowcase. Love yourself. Do what feels good. Rebellion is a lot scarier when there are no rules to rebel against. So much for the children of parents who brought us the “sexual revolution.”

Those in my mother’s generation became adults when they were still children. Two wars, an economic depression, influenza and working at age 9 forced people to grow up quickly. Sex was reserved for husbands and wives. However, my Aunt Ruthie rebelled. She was a flapper and smoked cigarettes, studied ballet, and broke the chastity rules.

Every generation of American women redefines itself by the times it lives in and measures itself by the progress of the women who came before. Naomi Wolf, 35, author of “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood,” for instance, came of age during the Reagan-Bush years. She is first generation feminist movement. That is why I don’t get it when she writes, “Men were deciding for us if we were women.” Men didn’t decide if we were women; quite the contrary, we decide if they are men — but only if we understand we have that power. Otherwise, we do a lot of pretending and whining.

Postscript: Last year, Richard Gunther called me after getting my name from the UCLA Center On Aging. He wanted to explore the lives of older men. Let’s make it interesting, I suggested. Let’s try to find out if men, such as Harold Mitchell, make a transition from sexuality to sensuality. Is it natural, or does it have to be learned? What is the effect of lowered testosterone on the male spirit? How do we define and fulfill desire past 65? Instead of “navigating sexual turmoil” (Jewish Journal headline, June 27), let’s explore the open seas in a lighthearted, joyful way. Is there anybody out there who’s not in turmoil? All responses will be protected for their confidentiality.

Write to: Linda Feldman

c/o The Jewish Journal

3660 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 204

Los Angeles, CA 90010


Linda Feldman, a former columnist for the Los Angeles

Times, is the co-author of “Where To Go From Here: Discovering Your Own Life’s Wisdom,” due out his fall from Simon & Schuster.

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