November 18, 2018

Los Angeles Jewish Home Welcomes Motion Picture Home Fire Evacuees

As the fires spread on Friday, Nov. 9 in Thousand Oaks, residents from the Motion Pictures Home in Woodland Hills were among those who needed to be evacuated. It was a difficult process, requiring patients to be sent to multiple alternate locations, so Motion Pictures & Television Fund’s (MPTF) Linda Healy reached out to the Los Angeles Jewish Home (LAJH).

LAJH responded to the call and welcomed 26 patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia into their Eisenberg Village facility in Reseda.

“We are tremendously proud of the staff of the Los Angeles Jewish Home,” said Molly Forrest, CEO and president of LAJH. “Their immediate response to the need to shelter and care for the fragile seniors from the Motion Picture Home during this crisis was truly heroic. It is reflective of the quality care and compassion for which the Home is known.”

Motio Picture Home evacuation, Jewish journal

Motion Picture Home Evacuation

LAJH also arranged transportation to pick up – and later send home – their special guests and set up cots and supplies in their boardroom. Residents, their family members and staff from the Motion Pictures Home were greeted with matzo ball soup and a heaping dose of compassion.

Residents, their family members and staff from the Motion Pictures Home were greeted with matzo ball soup and a heaping does of compassion.

 

LAJH COO Larissa Stepanians said the entire staff pitched in. They joined forces to deliver and assemble cots, hold hands of residents who were confused and afraid and speak with family members. “There was such teamwork of our staff coming together,” she said.”

Stepanians, who lives with her family in Simi Valley, had to evacuate her own home, but then drove into work, as did many other LAJH staff.  “What’s important for me is everyone felt safe, families were happy and we were able to care for this special group of residents,” Stepanians said. “It was a beautiful scene in a very scary situation.”

All residents from Motion Picture Home returned to their facility safely after breakfast Saturday morning.

“In [these] times, we all need to pull together as a community to support and shelter and we are very, very lucky to have you in our world,” MPTF President & CEO Bob Beitcher wrote in a thank you note to the Home. “And I hope you know that we are there for you in the event anything like this is ever needed.”

Moving & Shaking: March for Our Lives, Big Brothers Seder

From left: Temple Judea members Sheldon and Marilyn Fishbein, Temple Judea member Barbara Weintraub, Carol Siembeida of Congregation Or Ami and retired business owner Larry Weintraub show their support for the March for Our Lives at a “sibling” rally in Studio City. Photo by Ryan Torok.

A March for Our Lives “sibling” rally in studio City drew about 200 participants to Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Avenue on March 24, including members of the Jewish community.  It was held in support of the main March for Our Lives rally that took place the same day in Washington, D.C.

One of the participants, Marilyn Fishbein of Woodland Hills, a congregant of Temple Judea in Tarzana, carried a sign that said, “Enough.”

“This is a movement that is not just for today,” Fishbein said, referring to the marches and demonstrations organized nationwide in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and faculty members. “It is for always.”

“We need the members of Congress to do their jobs, to wake up and realize this has to happen,” Fishbein said. “We don’t want any more incidents. We want action, and we want it now.”

She said she would like to see the Jewish community respond more strongly to the high levels of gun violence in the United States.

“I’d like to hear more, much more. I’d like to see temples really involved. Our temple got together to do the march today — they actually got organized — but I think one day is not enough. We have to be consistent, and we have to keep going,” she said.

Additional attendees of the 9 a.m. rally, which lasted an hour, included retired business owner and Temple Judea congregant Larry Weintraub. Weintraub, who ran Randy’s Donuts for several decades with his brother, said he supported the right to own guns, but he called on legislators to ban assault weapons.

“I’m appalled by what is going on,” Weintraub said. “They should be able to do away with assault rifles. I’m not for taking people’s guns away, but I think we need to do something about that.”

The Studio City rally was one of several March for Our Lives demonstrations in Los Angeles on March 24, the largest of which took place in downtown L.A. Those who attended the downtown rally included Rabbi Naomi Levy, who along with members of her Nashuva congregation, participated in a prayer service at the start of the rally, and Rabbi Joel Simonds, executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice.

From left: Yaara Segal, director of public diplomacy at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; firefighter Elan Raber; Michelle Moreh, director for academic affairs at the consulate; Karin Pery, consul for public diplomacy; and firefighter Bert Salazar come together at the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Encino Station. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The public diplomacy team at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles toured the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Encino Station 83 on March 20.

The consulate general team — including Yaara Segal, director of public diplomacy; Michelle Moreh, director for academic affairs; and Karin Pery, consul for public diplomacy — met with the station’s firefighters, including Elan Raber, a member of the Emergency Volunteer Project, an organization that provides emergency backup to Israel in the case of war or a major fire.

Additional firefighters who met with the Israeli representatives on the tour included Bert Salazar.

Brad, a Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) mentor, and Lidor, a mentee, celebrate a Passover seder with other members of the JBBBSLA community. Photo courtesy of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) held its annual Passover seder on March 25 at Temple Judea in Tarzana, drawing a record turnout of 220 guests, including families, mentees and mentors, many of whom may not have otherwise experienced a seder this year.

Attendees participated in a variety of Passover-themed activities, including decorating seder plates and making matzo covers.

There were five winners in the afikomen competition. “This is the only seder I get to go to,” said 9-year-old Rebecca. (JBBBSLA is not allowed to give out last names of minors in its program.) It was fun learning about the Exodus story, and even more fun that I got to share my own story!”

Temple Judea’s rabbinic intern, Lillian Kowalski, from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, led the seder.

The organization’s CEO, Randy Schwab, said he was especially pleased with the event.

“Each year, we invite our community to be a part of this fun and engaging Passover seder. The attendance this year was impressive, and it was encouraging to see so many of our matches bond over a shared Jewish experience,” Schwab said. “This is the only event of the year where we are also able to include the families of the mentees. It truly was an unforgettable seder and we were lucky to host it at our new Valley home, Temple Judea.”

Founded in 1915, JBBBSLA provides children with mentoring, camp and scholarship programs. It also operates Camp Bob Waldorf on the Max Straus Campus, a 112-acre residential camp and retreat center in Glendale’s Verdugo Hills.

From left: Jason Perel, Matthew Blumkin, Michael Helscher, Ron Altman, Mark Hamermesh, Tom Keefer, Aric Browne, Jordan Esensten and event chair Michael Persky enjoy the Los Angeles Jewish Home Longest Day of Golf. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Jewish Home.

The Los Angeles Jewish Home held its Longest Day of Golf on March 19 at Woodland Hills Country Club.

Nine golfers — Jason Perel, Matthew Blumkin, Michael Helscher, Ron Altman, Mark Hamermesh, Tom Keefer, Aric Browne, Jordan Esensten and event chairman Michael Persky — asked friends and family to sponsor them to play golf all day.

The event raised nearly $100,000 for the Los Angeles Jewish Home, one of the leading senior health care systems in America, serving 6,000 seniors every year.

From left: Susan Azzizadeh, president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, state Assembly member Richard Bloom and state Assembly member Adrin Nazarian attend a Persian New Year celebration at the state Capitol in Sacramento. Photo by Karmel Melamed.

More than 50 Iranian Americans of various faiths from across California gathered to celebrate the Persian New Year of Nowruz at an official event held at the state Capitol in Sacramento on March 19.

During the event, state Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) presented a resolution for statewide recognition of Nowruz for the fifth consecutive year in the legislature.

Nowruz is the ancient Persian secular holiday marking the beginning of spring and calling for friendship, peace and tolerance among all people.

At the event, Susan Azizzadeh, president of the West Hollywood-based Iranian American Jewish Federation, presented Nazarian with her organization’s plaque for his efforts in fostering good relations among and with Iranian Americans in California.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to Mr. Nazarian for promoting the great aspects of Iranian culture in the mainstream and presenting our community as one that embraces one another regardless of our religions,” Azizzadeh said.

Also in attendance was acclaimed Iranian-Jewish artist Kamran Khavarani of Los Angeles, who received a state proclamation for his artistic accomplishments.

Nazarian, who is not Jewish but is of Armenian background, said he wanted to shed light on the significant contributions Iranian Americans have made to California.

“By celebrating Nowruz in the Assembly, we honor the Persian community because they have been an incredible asset to the state for more than 30 years, and account for a lot of our continued success,” Nazarian said. “I’m also honored, as an Iranian-American immigrant, to be able to recognize Nowruz on a state level.”

Other official local Nowruz celebrations included a March 23 event at the Los Angeles City Council Chambers with Mayor Eric Garcetti and a March 25 Persian cultural gathering in Westwood Village attended by various local elected officials.

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Seniors team with teens to trace family trees online

Jewish Educational Trade School student Isser Brikman works with Jewish Home resident Michael Candiotti on a computer-based genealogy project. Photo courtesy of JETS.

The sign in the library at the Los Angeles Jewish Home reads, “Silence is appreciated in the Library,” but on one recent stormy Sunday, the place was positively abuzz with activity.

Six residents of the senior living home and six teens from the Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS) sat in a row, each in front of a computer monitor. More teens loitered around, and elders sat in plush leather armchairs, waiting for their turns at the computer.

The seniors brought binders and notebooks with biographical details about relatives, and as they spelled out place names and birth dates, the students keyed the data into geni.com, a genealogy website.

For the students, the Jan. 22 afternoon get-together was a capstone, of sorts. They’d spent eight weeks learning about genealogy in a not-for-credit seminar taught by E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney who made a name and a fortune reclaiming Jewish-owned art looted by the Nazis. As their final project, the students volunteered to help the seniors upload information that connects them to a global Jewish family tree.

“Teenagers are tech savvy, but it’s the seniors who want to put up their family trees,” said Rabbi Naftali Smith, the principal of JETS, who accompanied the teens to the Jewish Home.

For the seniors, such as Joe Levoff, 86, who was born in Shanghai, the session provided an opportunity to explore their roots. “I’m always interested to know where I came from, how far back I can go,” he said.

The idea undergirding Jewish genealogy, Schoenberg explained, is that Jews really are one big family.

“It’s like this giant, connected puzzle where we’re all related,” he said.

Geni.com illustrates that fact by allowing users to search for their connections with anybody whose family history is logged on the website. So, for instance, it turned out that Levoff’s student mentor was also his aunt’s nephew’s ex-wife’s second cousin’s ex-husband’s first cousin’s husband’s great nephew, according to geni.com.

But here’s the catch: You can find connections only if you’ve added enough information about yourself to link you to the global network of connections already uploaded to Geni’s World Family Tree. Schoenberg curates about 152,000 of these profiles.

So by helping the seniors log their data, the students were linking them to a network that includes, in theory, every Jew in recorded history. Some lucky seniors had enough information during the two-hour session to plug them into this massive family tree.

The students had only recently experienced this phenomenon themselves.

Oran Gabriel Sherman, 16, said Schoenberg helped him find his great-grandfather in Russia. Sherman hadn’t known he had any Russian ancestry. The search had even turned up a photo of his great-grandfather  — “He’s a good-looking guy,” he said — that shocked him.

He showed the photograph to his grandmother. “She was amazed herself,” he said.

Another JETS student, Isser Brikman dutifully typed as Dorothy Scott, 94, the senior home’s resident chaplain, leaned forward and spelled names of places and people in a commanding staccato. For Scott, whose childhood ended when her family was displaced by the Holocaust, the exercise carried an extra weight.

“We, the children, don’t know anything about who we are,” she said.

Schoenberg considers the event a success, and is looking to repeat the seminar at JETS or other schools.

“This was totally experimental,” he said. “It worked.

Party celebrates Jewish Home residents who are 100 years young

You could say it was the party of the century. 

On Sept. 22, National Centenarian Day, the Los Angeles Jewish Home in Reseda threw a birthday party unlike any other: a celebration of its residents ages 100 and older.

And it was a bigger party than you might think — 36 women and two men ranging in age from 100 to 105 were feted for their accomplishment in aging gracefully that puts them in the same ballpark as the Jewish Home itself.

“The home is 104 years old this year,” said CEO Molly Forrest, who spoke following a blessing by Rabbi Karen Bender, Los Angeles Jewish Home director of spiritual life and Grancell Village rabbi. “We thought it was appropriate to take a moment to think about what a long time 100 years is. Out of those who live in the Jewish Home on a long-term basis, 5 percent of our residents are over 100. We believe that every day of life matters and that you take hold of each day with zest and interest and a great attitude.”

The Jewish Home has held its annual Walk of Ages in honor of its centenarians since 2000. This year’s event is slated for Nov. 20 at Woodley Park in Van Nuys. But the birthday bash was a first.

Because even one 100th birthday is a big deal, this occasion merited some serious fanfare. The Schulman Activities Center at Grancell Village was decorated in white and gold balloons. White and gold linens and vases of fresh flowers dressed up round tables where the guests of honor — dressed to the nines — mingled with family members and staff while a pianist played. 

The 36 women honorees wore colorful corsages on their wrists. The men donned boutonnieres. Waiters served scones and berries plus slices of chocolate birthday cake.

In addition to Forrest, speakers included California Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-Encino), as well as representatives for Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who each presented every centenarian with special certificates. 

“Unbelievable!” said Albert Weber, 102, upon receiving his certificates. “I hope I’m deserving.”

Like many of the centenarians, Weber credited his long life not principally to exercise or diet but something more intangible. 

“It’s not what you eat,” the former entrepreneur said. “It’s what’s eating you. Attitude is very important. Every word that comes out of your mouth should be positive.”

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Moving and shaking: Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny, BJE and more

Temple Beth Am held an installation ceremony for Rabbi Cantor Hillary Chorny and recognized Associate Rabbi Ari Lucas on Dec. 13.

Chorny, who was raised in San Diego, joined the staff at the La Cienega Boulevard Conservative congregation as cantor in August. She is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, where she completed her Cantorial Investiture, Rabbinical Ordination and a master’s degree in sacred music.

Lucas, a New Jersey native, has been part of the Beth Am community since 2012, and the event marked his promotion from assistant rabbi to associate rabbi. “It was a wonderful moment for the entire community to celebrate a great relationship, and we’re excited about what we are building here,” he said in a phone interview with the Journal. 

Among those who attended the ceremony at Temple Beth Am were Cantor Nancy Abramson, director of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at JTS; Beth Am President Mike Cohn and Beth Am Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld.


Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) honored former board presidents Earl Greinetz (2002-2005) and Elaine Lindheim (2005-2008) Jan. 8 during its annual gala, raising more than $400,000 in support of the Jewish education nonprofit in the process.

Milken Family Foundation, in recognition of its annual Jewish Educators Award, which honors outstanding educators, also received honors. 

From left: Gil Graff, BJE executive director; Rhea Coskey, gala co-chair; honorees Elaine Lindheim and Earl Greinetz; Janet Farber, gala co-chair; and Alan Spiwak, BJE president. Photo by Mark Lee. Moments to Remember

“It was a wonderful bringing together of the community, which is really what BJE is all about,” Miriam Prum Hess, BJE’s director of donor and community relations, said in a phone interview.

The event was held at Sinai Temple in Westwood and drew more than 400 community members, day-school leaders and others, including Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Les Bider, Federation board chairman; Susie Fohrer Dehrey, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles executive vice president; and Samara Hutman of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Among those representing the education community were Robert Wexler, American Jewish University president; Joshua Holo, dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Los Angeles; Ron Reynolds, California Association of Private School Organizations executive director; Jody Myers, CSUN professor of religious studies; UCLA professors Todd Presner, Sarah Abrevaya Stein and Mark Kligman; and Leon Janks and Gary Weisserman of Milken Community Schools.


Dr. Noachim Steve Marco has been hired as Los Angeles Jewish Home’s chief medical officer.

“The Jewish Home has a well-deserved reputation of providing the highest quality of care to those it serves,” said Marco, former vice president of medical affairs at Northridge Hospital Medical Center,  as quoted in a Jan. 9 press release. “I hope to help facilitate that ongoing mission as the Home continues to expand, providing services to seniors in the community and in-residence.”

Dr. Noachim Steve Marco. Photo by Steve Cohn

The Los Angeles Jewish home is a provider of senior home-care services for more than 5,000 individuals every year through its community-based and in-residence programs.

President and CEO Molly Forrest welcomed Marco to the team in a statement: “In addition to his impressive medical credentials and experience, Dr. Marco brings to the Home the compassionate care that we are known for,” she said. “We are privileged that he has joined the Home’s clinical staff and know the seniors he cares for will greatly benefit from his medical skills and knowledge.”


Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has received a $40,000 grant from Bank of America Charitable Foundation as part of a foundation initiative that has allocated $930,000 to 28 Los Angeles-based nonprofit organizations that are “helping individuals with basic human services and building better financial lives,” according to a Jan. 12 JFS media release.

A social services agency, JFS is using the funds toward its JFS Family Violence Project and its Shelter Services program. The former “provides essential counseling and assistance for survivors of domestic abuse,” according to a statement. “In 2013, JFS Shelter Services helped a total of 421 adults and 218 children toward self sufficiency.”

Debby Barak, JFS board president, welcomed the grant.

“Through the Family Violence Project and our Shelter Services program, JFS plays a critical role in providing hope and opportunity to victims of abuse, regardless of religion, ethnicity or background,” Barak said, as quoted by the release. “This generous donation from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation will enable us to continue to assist victims of intimate partner violence, allowing them to regain their independence and rebuild their lives.”

Raul Anaya, Los Angeles market president at Bank of America, praised the work of JFS.

“Bank of America shares Jewish Family Service’s mission to help people across basic human services and strengthen the health of our community,” he said, as quoted by the release. “Our grant to JFS will help the agency provide critical supportive services to survivors of domestic abuse, putting them on a path to financial stability while meeting their immediate needs.”

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation provides grant money to agencies that work in the areas of jobs, housing and hunger.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Molly Forrest plans the future at the Los Angeles Jewish Home

It is just before noon at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, and Molly Forrest, president and CEO, is giving a tour of the home’s most populous campus, the Eisenberg Village in Reseda, when a silvery-haired woman in a shmatte starts roaming the hallway shouting, “Lunchtime! Everyone! Luuuuunnnnnch tiiiiime!” — with the urgency of air raid sirens. 

Welcome to mealtime for more than 500 elderly Jews whose appetites, not to mention attitudes, have barely weakened with age. 

Forrest, 65, laughs and throws her head back, declaring, “She wants lunch!” 

Suddenly a flurry of staff mobilizes to escort the residents into the dining hall, where hot dogs and corn are among the strictly kosher items on offer. Forrest, a petite woman with cropped blond hair and cerulean eyes, quickly moves the tour to the dining room. She is dressed in a light-gray pantsuit, with an ice-blue blouse buttoned conservatively to the neck. As she breezes from table to table, chatting effortlessly, Forrest seems more the consummate host greeting her honored guests than the resident boss. She even makes a point of kneeling when addressing a resident who is seated or confined to a wheelchair so as not to appear to talk down to anyone or make them strain their necks. 

“Hello there, how are you today?” Forrest says, her voice so pillowy and friendly you find yourself leaning in to hear her. 

“And you are?” a female resident asks. 

“I’m Molly Forrest. I’m with the Jewish Home.” 

“Mottttherrr,” exclaims a middle-aged woman seated across the table. “She’s the CEO! The head, head honcho! She’s the person my sister Rocky called to get you in here!” 

Forrest tries not to blush, then offers, divertingly, “Well, tell your sister, ‘Thank you for choosing the Jewish Home.’ ” Forrest has a marvelous way of deflecting personal recognition into accolade for the home she has led and grown since 1996. “How’s it going so far?” she asks the resident. 

“I’m getting used to it,” the woman in her 80s responds. “I couldn’t take the cold winters in Pleasanton [Calif.] anymore.” 

“She’s so grateful to be in the warm temperature,” the resident’s daughter adds. “I told her, ‘Mother, I promise you one thing: You’ll never be cold again!’ ” 

It would not be a stretch to say, metaphorically speaking, that it is Forrest herself who has ensured the Jewish Home’s continued warmth. But even more than that she has managed to recast one of life’s more challenging chapters into a dignified denouement. 

In youth-obsessed Los Angeles, Forrest has invested herself in the opposite direction, focusing her work on enriching the quality of life of seniors. “We always say, ‘We add life to years, and years to life,’ ” she said, touting the home’s unofficial mantra. “No one here says, ‘Gee, I’m on my final chapter.’ We have to stay positive in focus and make the point that every day is worth living.” 

From left: Molly Forrest, Joyce Brandman, Louis Gonda and Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer break ground on the Gonda Healthy Aging Westside Campus.

During her 18 years working at the Jewish Home, Forrest has sought to reposition what was once a campus in decline into a state-of-the-art complex of campuses that anticipates the needs of the future. To that end, she has added an array of new buildings and services to the home, now totaling 21 programs on three Valley-based campuses — Eisenberg Village, the Hirsch Family Campus and Grancell Village, all in Reseda — with a new Westside campus due to open in 2016 in Playa Vista. As part of Forrest’s vision, many of the home’s offerings are now designed to benefit not only residents but also the community at large. Among its cutting-edge health services are hospice care, palliative care and geriatric psychiatry (“The demographic with the highest suicide rate in the nation is men over the age of 65,” Forrest said), as well as the Brandman Centers for Senior Care, which offers all-inclusive health care treatment in the comfort of one’s own home. On the Eisenberg campus, there is a residential treatment center for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients (statistics show that by the time one reaches 85, there is about a 50 percent chance of mental decline), as well as in-house clinics offering ophthalmology, dental care and other geriatric services. 

Forrest also has ramped up good-business practices: When the home’s current employees, many of whom are low-wage workers, asked Forrest for job mobility opportunities, she created the Annenberg School of Nursing, a $6.5 million facility at the Hirsch Family campus, where employees can train to become RNs, LVNs and CNAs, in-demand positions throughout her industry. And what’s more, she has managed to hire 40 percent of the graduates. “When I came to the Jewish Home, I didn’t go out and recruit people to come here; I tried to work with people who were already here,” she said, noting how common it is for the home’s employees to work there for many years. One of the things Forrest stakes her leadership upon is that “people will sometimes bloom where they are planted.” It’s one of the reasons she created Fountainview, an upscale retirement community for independent living that offers the well-heeled spa-style amenities such as in-house facials, massages and personal trainers. Residents may not ever need the continuum of care found elsewhere on campus, but it is there if they do. 

If it’s hard to get excited about that time in life when we may require any of what the Jewish Home offers, it is almost certain that someday these needs will reach us or someone we love. In fact, current demographic studies show that the U.S. is headed for a radical population shift that will require elder care beyond anything known before in human history. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, by the year 2030 adults aged 65 and older will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population — that’s upwards of 70 million people — compared with just 12 percent, or 39 million, in 2009. The trend will be true as well in the local Jewish population of nearly 600,000, which means that in 15 years, 120,000 L.A. Jews will need what Forrest is building. 

“Everyone used to say, ‘Oh you’re that little nursing home,’ or, ‘You’re that wonderful home in the Valley,’ ” Forrest recalled during a series of interviews in recent months. When she first arrived at the home, it served about 650 seniors and residents annually with a $25 million budget; today the home serves nearly 5,000 people annually with a total operating budget of $120 million. It is now the largest nonprofit skilled-nursing provider in California. And yet, it is still nowhere close to meeting the demand: “We are grossly underserving the actual needs of the community,” Forrest said. 

Last April, with the help of billionaire Holocaust survivor Leslie Gonda and his now-late wife, Susan, Forrest oversaw the ceremonial groundbreaking for one of her most ambitious projects yet — 2 1/2-acre Fountainview at Gonda Healthy Aging Westside campus in Playa Vista, the Jewish Home’s first foray into the Westside. The Gonda campus will offer the same continuum of care the Jewish Home is known for — but with more amenities and more glitz. Construction is now underway for 175 upscale, independent-living apartments featuring multiple dining venues, lounges, fitness and swimming facilities, as well as lush, green walking paths; there will also be 24 units of assisted living and memory care. The independent-living apartments come with a steep Westside entry fee of $850,000 per unit, though 90 percent is refundable upon leaving. According to Forrest, demand is high: 90 percent of Gonda already had been sold by the time construction began in September. 

Forrest knows the home can’t be all things to all people, but she does believe it has a community-wide role to play. For instance, although the home offers kosher food and a variety of Jewish programs and services, it is open to non-Jews, as well. And eventually, Forrest hopes the home will be able to serve every L.A. Jew who needs it. “One of our questions here is always: What makes the Jewish Home Jewish?” she said. “And besides kosher food, and observance of Jewish holidays and Shabbat, then you get down to: The home has to have a heart. It has to be a support, a friend, a confidante and a partner.” 

Molly Forrest visits with resident Hedy Asher in the arts and crafts center at the Home’s Eisenberg Village campus. 

In some ways, Forrest may be too good at her job. One reason the home has a perennial waiting list is because turnover is remarkably low. Even with residents whose average age upon entry is 84, the median length of stay at the Jewish Home is seven years and 10 months, compared with a national average of two to three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health. That’s probably one of the best measures of Forrest’s job performance, and one reason she is L.A.’s highest-paid female executive in the Jewish nonprofit world. According to the home’s tax filings on GuideStar.org, in 2012 Forrest took home a salary and benefits package of nearly $640,000, the kind that could win over even the most gerascophobic. 

“I met with a donor once who said ‘I don’t do old,’ and I was rather taken aback,” Forrest said during an interview at her Grancell Village office last summer. “The first thing a society of values does is to take care of those who have built where you stand, and to nurture those who inherit what you built. So, to ignore those who built our society seems, to me, to be cruel.” 

The care her parents didn’t get

Forrest grew up in the small town of Roseburg, Ore. (population 11,000 back then), where her very large household included nine children (seven biological siblings and two adopted cousins) as well as her grandmother. “It worked very well,” she said of the large brood. Her father owned a local lumber company, and her mother, having earned a degree in economics, had worked as a credit manager for the retailer Montgomery Ward, where the two met. The family’s lifestyle was unexceptional, Forrest said, despite the fact that her father was successful. “When you own your own company, it’s called chicken or feathers,” she said. “You either have plenty, or you’re scrambling; as the economy rises and falls, your fortunes change.” 

As practicing Catholics, her parents emphasized humility. “The first television I ever saw was through the window of a neighbor’s house,” she said. “We didn’t own one. We had a bicycle.” Both of Forrest’s parents lived through the Great Depression and began instilling awareness of the less fortunate in their children early on. “We were always told we had to give,” Forrest said as she enumerated her mother’s volunteer positions. Every time they went to the park, she recalled, her mother would give the kids bags with which to collect garbage before they could play. When Forrest’s father finally sold his lumber business, she recalled, his first act was to pay off the mortgages of the local hospital emergency room and their church. 

As a student, Forrest majored in English literature at Oregon State University and married shortly after graduation. The young couple moved to Oroville, Calif., north of Sacramento, where her husband went to work in lumber production. Forrest took a job at a local nursing home, working six days a week as a jack-of-all-trades for what amounted to less than minimum wage. “I learned how to run the dishwasher, bleed a boiler, plant rat traps and — worse — clean them out from under the building,” she said with pride. At the end of a year, her boss helped her get a nursing home administrator’s license, through which Forrest learned to read a profit-and-loss statement, studied human anatomy and physiology and learned basic medical terminology. She also read the collected works of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the death-and-dying guru of the 20th century. 

Resident Nat Aboulafia chats with Molly Forrest during lunch in the Eisenberg Village dining room.

“I never intended to be in this field,” she said, reflecting on the providence of those early years. “I wanted to teach college literature.” 

But as her career began to take shape, her personal life fell apart. Her husband lost his job and returned to Oregon to look for work while Forrest moved to Sacramento to run another of her boss’s nursing homes. The couple reunited at the end of a year, when Forrest returned to Oregon to take a job with Lane County government running its Title VII programs, which dealt with elder rights and care. Her career was taking off, while her husband still couldn’t find work, and Forrest was supporting them both. When she became pregnant and had her first child at 29, her husband began to resent her. “He would walk in and say, ‘I wish you weren’t here, and I don’t really want to be a father,’ ” Forrest recalled. Forrest agreed to support him while he returned to school for a master’s degree, and even paid his tuition. But after that, it was over: “I moved out the day he graduated,” she said. 

Forrest continued to broaden her role with Lane County, where she developed a variety of targeted housing and community programs for special needs populations, including the homeless, handicapped, ex-offenders, veterans, the elderly, abused women and children, and even first-time homeowners. She worked so hard that the county allowed her to keep a crib for her son, Brian, in her office so that she could bring him with her to work. But the distance between Forrest and her ex-husband wasn’t wide enough, so she decided to move to Los Angeles. 

“My father offered to buy me a [nursing] facility in Oregon, but he wanted me to have more experience,” Forrest recalled. “And I thought, you know, everybody says if you go  to L.A. and make it in L.A., you can sort of do whatever you want.” 

In 1979, she arrived in Los Angeles and began working for Flagg Industries, a nursing home chain. That was how she met Lillian Lieberman, director of nursing at one of the homes, who introduced her to Judaism. A long-lapsed Catholic, Forrest was in search of spirituality and decided to enroll in an introduction to Judaism course at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University, or AJU). In 1982, she converted and, not long after, met the lawyer Erwin Diller and married him. “I always call my husband my reward for choosing to be Jewish,” she joked. With Diller, Forrest had her second child, but she refused to change her name a second time, a hard-won lesson from when she briefly had done so for her first marriage. “Women talk about the glass ceiling, but we don’t see what we do to ourselves,” she said, explaining how she got her first L.A. job when a job agency administrator recognized her maiden name. “The ‘old boy’ network is made up of associations, and I am a firm believer that, by giving up your name as an adult, you lose connections.” 

By 1986, Forrest had become regional director of American Medical Services, overseeing 16 nursing and health care facilities spread throughout the West Coast. She was well poised for a high-powered career with a major for-profit enterprise, but when news arrived that the company was going to be sold, Forrest decided to quit. The merged company would expect her to oversee more than 100 facilities in several states. “I didn’t really want to do that,” she said, noting that she had two children to care for. “I would never be home.” 

But it was what happened next that would dramatically influence the course of her destiny: When Forrest was 42, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she and her family relocated to Oregon for the next five years in order to care for both of her parents. The experience was scarring. The first time her father visited his wife in a nursing-home dementia unit, he fell, broke his arm and nose and, 10 days later, died unexpectedly of complications from the injury. Despite Forrest’s best, even expert, efforts, she wit nessed her mother’s steady and severe decline over the next few years in a home that could not properly care for her. The whole period was a mess, and it left Forrest filled with regrets. But the experience was also instructive: From the pain of watching her parents suffer — seeing her mother scream and hit and strapped to a bed, hearing her father cry — and experiencing firsthand the care that did little to help them, and may even have worsened their conditions, Forrest found her calling. 

“I wanted to give people the kind of life and care my parents should have had in Oregon and never got, and create for others what I could never achieve for them,” she said. Less than six months after her mother died, Forrest walked out of a three-hour job interview with the Los Angeles Jewish Home’s executive committee to become the home’s new COO. Six months after that, she was named CEO. 

Medi-Cal, the waitlist and the donors 

“I was knocked over by Molly,” Jeff Glassman, the Jewish Home’s current board chair, said of meeting her. “She really, instantly, struck me as one of the great leaders of the nonprofit world. She has a command for most everything that’s going on, and she just clearly loves it. From the moment you meet her, you know she’s very special.” 

Joanne Handy, president and CEO of Lead ingAge California, an advocacy organization for senior living and care, has worked with Forrest over the last five years to bring industry concerns to the California State Legislature. Forrest serves as a board member. 

“I think she’s one of the more dynamic leaders in the industry,” Handy said. “She’s very passionate, compelling and convincing. And she’s constantly moving forward. It was very strategic to position the home to be a contemporary organization in today’s health care environment, and part of what allows her to do that is her grasp of the overall environment in which she operates — she’ll know all about what’s going on with major medical centers, physician groups and insurance companies. She’s the type of person who has vision and who can execute. Sometimes you get someone who has a lot of vision but can’t execute; she has both.” 

In 2012, when the home was fielding as many as 200 inquiries per week from families of aging seniors seeking help, Forrest established Connections to Care, an in-house concierge service that offers guidance and advice to seniors and their families, free of charge. It is illustrative of her values-based policy: If the home itself cannot accommodate certain people, it will direct them toward a place that can. “We want to be a partner for the whole life experience,” Forrest said. 

Even as it grows, the home continues to have a notorious waitlist for many of its facilities. To secure one of the coveted 510 beds in skilled nursing care, for example, the wait is anywhere from 18 months to three years. The home does give priority to people who meet certain criteria 

— family members of current residents, supporters and volunteers for the home, “survivors of traumatic life events” and Jewish communal professionals, to name a few — but for the thousands of both Jewish and non-Jewish seniors who can’t score a spot on campus, “We needed to have a better answer,” Forrest said. 

And for all her ingenuity and innovation, Forrest also has to fund her vision. Keeping the home operational is a constant balancing act, especially since the majority of its residents fall below the poverty line. “We will always have obstacles, because the board of the home which represents the community wants the home to serve those who are financially needy,” she said. Forrest estimates that as many as 75 percent of Jewish Home residents are on Medi-Cal, California’s health care plan for low-income individuals, which often pays less than what is needed to operate. But unlike most high-end private facilities, ability to pay is not a criterion for residency; if a resident runs out of money, the home accepts welfare payments. 

Expanding services for a high-end clientele — and charging accordingly — is one way Forrest has helped offset the cost of sustaining the home’s low-income residents. Given today’s increasing life spans and the aging boomer population, which will double the number in need of senior care within two decades, the cost of running a nonprofit senior care facility will inevitably and consistently outpace even the boldest new efforts at creating revenue. 

“When Medicare first came out [in 1965], they did a study based in Europe which basically said that if you lived to be 65 you were really old, and not many people were supposed to live that long,” Forrest said. “So when they set up Social Security, it was supposed to be a safety net for the oldest of the old. Well, move forward in time, and the new policies for life insurance are being written with actuarial tables that end at [age] 120. We  now are seeing the longest life spans in the history of the human race.” 

For Forrest and the Jewish Home, these trends mean two things: more services and more fundraising. 

“We depend upon philanthropy,” Forrest said, plain and simple. “If we did not get donations, we would be bankrupt.” 

To her credit, Forrest has developed a reliable donor pool that includes some of the biggest names in local philanthropy, many of them women — Wallis Annenberg, Ruth Ziegler, Joyce Eisenberg and Joyce Brandman, all of whom, with the exception of Ziegler, have either a program or a building named for them. Ziegler, Forrest said, was a key funder during her first five years there, anonymously contributing several million dollars each year to keep it operational. “I always tell her she’s like the mother of the home because without her help, we wouldn’t be here,” Forrest said. 

Yet Forrest resists referring to that part of her job as “fundraising.”

“I’m not a salesman called in to close a deal,” Forrest said. Instead, she prefers to call it friend-raising: “It is my approach that significant gifts come to advance a vision, and these philanthropists view themselves as partners in what we’re trying to do. And partners need to be treated like partners — and valued friends.” 

Despite the plethora of women donors, Forrest laments that only one woman has led the board in the home’s history, though she hopes that will change in the coming year, when the board will elect its next chair. Even so, the makeup of the board has morphed quite dramatically since Forrest arrived, since one of her first acts as CEO was to shrink it from 113 members to 16, helped, in no small part, by requiring a minimum yearly contribution of $10,000 (in practice, the average annual board gift is north of $20,000, Forrest said). Oddly enough, her penchant for taking risks and challenging her board hasn’t exactly upset them. 

“If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that she may take on a little too much sometimes,” board chair Glassman said.

The world has noticed her efforts. Last April, Forrest was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles Business Journal; in May she received an honorary doctorate from AJU; and in June, she was invited to the White House to present her solution on how to reduce hospital readmission rates and lower costs using funding from the Affordable Care Act. 

Tireless though she may be, Forrest’s appetite for excellence is not only professional, it’s personal. “Here, I could pour in some of the grief over what I couldn’t do for my mother into creating a life for the residents here,” she said. As it says in Leviticus, “You shall honor the old.” 

“There’s a wonderful teaching in Maimonides,” Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Fein-stein, one of Forrest’s admirers, said when asked to speak about the home’s Jewish significance. “It answers the question: ‘What happens if I have a parent who I love and revere, but who I really don’t have the capacity to take care of?’ And it’s a very touching question, because there’s this mitzvah in the Torah: ‘Honor your mother and father,’ which the Talmud always understood as caring for them. But there come moments when our parents have needs that we can’t meet, [and] Maimonides takes this into consideration and says, ‘You owe your parents the utmost respect, love and reverence, but if their needs exceed your capacity, you need to turn them over to someone who could care for them in the way you would want. 

“And that’s exactly what the [Jewish] home does,” Feinstein said. “That’s what makes the place so special and why it’s the fulfillment of this deep Jewish sense of responsibility to our elders.” 

In a final interview, Forrest summed up what drove her success at Jewish Home.

“When I came to the Jewish home, I thought, one day of this kind of life for my parents would have made their lives worth living,” Forrest said, wistfully. “And I wanted the home, which is such a pearl, to be available for anyone who needs it. For those who have resources and can pay, we should be an answer for you. And if you don’t, we should be an answer for you.”

Will Jews reject Donald Sterling gifts?: Jewish organizations recoil at Clippers owner’s comments

[UPDATE, May 2] David Suissa's conversation with Donald Sterling


Recent comments attributed to Donald Sterling, the Jewish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was banned for life from the league by the NBA's commissioner on April 29, have been denounced as racist by numerous area Jewish organizations, some of which have received donations amounting to tens of thousands of dollars from the embattled owner.

A search of public records, made available through the website Guidestar.com, indicates that from 2010 to 2012, the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave at least $10,000 to groups including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) and the Museum of Tolerance.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, supported NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s actions. The museum received three donations of $10,000 between 2010-2012, according to Guidestar.com.

“There’s no place in America for this kind of racism,” Hier told the Journal. “We believe the action to ban him for life is correct, and we will not accept any donations from Donald Sterling in the future.”

The NBA commissioner’s action “is what should happen whenever someone makes anti-Semitic or racist remarks, as millions of people are touched by this view,” Hier said.

Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson made clear in an April 29 phone interview with the Journal that his organization also would not consider future donations. It received $10,000 in 2012.

“Donald Sterling is clearly not a member of the Jewish community,” Sanderson said. “He has chosen to make small gifts to a large number of organizations. … We are appalled and abhor the comments Sterling made. We condemn Sterling for his comments, and we plan on not accepting his gifts in the future.”

On April 25, a recording was released in which the billionaire Sterling — who grew up Donald Tokowitz in Boyle Heights and is a member of Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills — allegedly is heard having a conversation with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and he asks her not to bring black people to basketball games. In the recordings, the man tries to justify his controversial comments by saying that, in Israel, blacks are “treated like dogs.”

The NBA’s commissioner placed a lifetime ban upon Sterling, as well as a fine of $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution. Silver said at the press conference that he would do everything in his power to rally the NBA governing body into forcing a sale. Since this story broke, several of the Clippers’ major sponsors, including longtime partners CarMax and State Farm, have either suspended or terminated their deals with the team.

An April 28 statement from JVS Board President Jim Hausberg and CEO Vivian Seigel described the reported comments from Sterling as “deplorable” and “indefensible.”

“We are shocked and stunned by the blatant racism of these alleged remarks, particularly from Mr. Sterling, who has been a supporter of many nonprofit organizations and understands the tragic consequences of discrimination and anti-Semitism,” it said.

The organization received a total of $30,000 from the Sterling Foundation between 2010 and 2012, and used the funds to support work with at-risk, foster and on-probation youth, according to the statement, which did not comment on the possibility of future donations.

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust received identical gifts that were spent to provide free Holocaust education, according to a statement from its board. Looking ahead to the potential of future donations, the statement asked the question: “If funds that have already been committed to charity cannot be distributed to organizations that are committed to fighting bigotry, how else should they be used?

“Perhaps Mr. Sterling and his family will choose to make amends … by redoubling his donations to organizations that combat the very corrosive disease from which he obviously suffers. That would seem to be the appropriate way forward from this debacle.”

In all, the Donald T. Sterling Foundation has made donations to more than 10 Los Angeles Jewish organizations over the last three years, according to Guidestar.com:

Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles: $50,000 (2010).

Beit T’Shuvah: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Los Angeles Jewish Home: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Museum of Tolerance: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Vista Del Mar: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging: $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Creative Arts Temple: $10,000 (2012).

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles: $10,000 (2012).

Temple of the Arts: $10,000 (2012).

Jewish Home to launch Westside campus

After years of planning to open a senior housing facility on the city’s Westside, the Los Angeles Jewish Home will break ground April 6 on the long-awaited campus. 

The ceremony will mark the official launch of the Jewish Home’s project to build the Gonda Healthy Aging Westside Campus on a 2.5-acre site in Playa Vista, a master-planned community near the ocean. The organization, which is the largest single-source provider of senior care in Los Angeles and already operates two other campuses in Reseda, expects to open the Westside facility in 2016, said Molly Forrest, Jewish Home CEO and president.

The total cost for the project will be between $125 million and $150 million, Forrest said. 

“This can be expected to be a state-of-the-art senior community,” she said. “It will exemplify the very best in optimal living choices and provide many opportunities for exercising a healthy lifestyle.”

The campus will feature 175 units where seniors can live independently but receive services to help them as they age. An additional 24 units will offer assisted living for those who can no longer look after themselves and/or who suffer from diseases affecting the memory. 

The design includes a pool, gardens, fitness rooms, meeting rooms, dining rooms, an event theater, art studio and a card room. The facility will offer programs and activities such as book clubs, excursions, exercise classes and courses. 

Residents will purchase a membership to the community instead of owning a unit, and pay a monthly fee toward services, Forrest explained. She said the costs have yet to be finalized.

The imminent construction marks a major milestone in the Jewish Home’s 102-year history, officials there said.

Forrest said building a campus in West L.A. has been part of the organization’s strategic plan since she joined the Jewish Home 18 years ago. The problem was, until now, the nonprofit didn’t have enough funds to buy land for the project and couldn’t find property that was suitable, she explained. 

Donations from the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Foundation and the Saul Brandman Foundation, along with other private donors, enabled the purchase of the Playa Vista plot for $15 million in 2012. Construction of the campus will be financed by residents’ membership fees, she said. 

The Westside has a large, underserved elderly population and is also a major source of donations to the Jewish Home, said Michael Heslov, former chair of the organization’s board, who was involved in finding the land for the project. 

Currently, the Jewish Home has about 300 people on its waiting list for beds at all its facilities. The Gonda campus will help alleviate that and provide seniors and their families more residence options in West Los Angeles, Heslov said. Already, the Jewish Home has received 131 deposits for independent living units at the new campus.

“The interest has been extremely high,” Heslov said. “We expect it to be very successful.”

Independent and assisted in-residence living are just part of the Jewish Home’s plan for the Westside. The organization is also searching for land or a building in the area to establish a new medical and social services facility known as the Brandman Centers for Senior Care that would allow them to reach out to seniors living in the community, many of them on low incomes. 

The Jewish Home already has a Brandman Centers facility in the San Fernando Valley, part of a federal initiative called the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The program offers on-site and in-home services such as medical checkups, therapy and meals to people age 55 and older who need a nursing-home level of care but want to stay in their homes. When built, the new Westside center — which Forrest said could open as early as next year — would serve approximately 240 seniors. 

In addition, the organization wants to create a 60-bed nursing facility close to the Westside campus by purchasing or renovating an existing facility.

Even before the planned physical facilities on the Westside take root, the Jewish Home is expanding its reach into West L.A. A new Encino-based home health agency called Jewish Home Care Services was launched by the organization in February and provides prescribed medical and therapy treatments to seniors on the Westside. The organization’s Skirball Hospice and Jewish Home Center for Palliative Medicine in Encino also work with seniors in West L.A., Forrest noted. About half of the seniors served by the hospice are from the Westside, she said.

With its current residential campuses and outpatient services, the Jewish Home works with about 4,300 seniors a year. With the planned Westside campus, Brandman Centers, skilled nursing facility and outpatient service expansions in the coming years, that number is expected to grow significantly — up to 6,000 seniors by 2016, according to Jewish Home spokeswoman Bonnie Polishuk.

Forrest called the Westside campus “the beginning of a movement to do things in West L.A.”

“I’d like the Gonda center to be setting a high standard for optimal senior living,” she said. “We work all our lives for the golden years, and this should set a standard that living life for a very long time can be done healthily and well, and with much fulfillment and joy.” 

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews react: Los Angeles Jewish Home CEO & President

Molly Forrest, CEO and president of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, had surgery to alleviate arthritis in her neck in December 2010.

Stuck in bed for 35 days, she read the entire Affordable Care Act – all 2,080 pages of it. She has since read it again so she knows it well, and she takes it personally.

“If I were unemployed now, I would not be able to get insurance, and I’m not old enough for Medicare,” Forrest remembers thinking after her surgery.

The Supreme Court’s decision today to uphold the law “settles a 100 year debate about whether access to health care is a right that each American has,” Forrest said.

The 1,000 elderly clients who live at the Jewish Home in Reseda, as well as the 1,500 non-residents it serves and the employees the organization insures all will benefit from the law as implementation goes forward, she said.

“Seventy-five percent of our clients rely on welfare programs to support whatever care they receive, and so anything that threatens or affects Medicaid or Medi-Cal dollars is of enormous concern and importance to us,” Forrest said.

Forrest said she supports the one adjustment to the law the court made—prohibiting the Federal government from withholding Medicaid funds from states that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act.

“We already face such enormous challenges with funding programs for the needy in this state, that for us the decisions of the Supreme Court at least removes the threat that the Federal government could penalize the state in any way for not fully complying with the Affordable Care Act,” Forrest said.

Forrest sees many benefits in the law.

Not only will those with preexisting conditions not be denied coverage now, she said, but the law prohibits insurers from charging highly elevated premiums to those with complicated conditions. This will help many disabled adults get private insurance, she said, since previously their pre-existing conditions either shut them out of insurance or made it entirely unaffordable.

She also sees much benefit in removing insurers’ lifetime cap and the annual cap, and in allowing children to stay on parents’ plans through age 26.

“I think there are a lot of good things here,” she said. “I know there is a lot of controversy around this, but this is America, and I think in the end this will work out and American will be better for it. I know the health of American will be better for it.”

Turning 100: Los Angeles Jewish Home has ambitious growth plans

There are nearly 500 people waiting for a bed at L.A.’s largest senior living facility, the Los Angeles Jewish Home. Waiting, in many cases, for someone to die.

“It’s very depressing,” said Marlene Markheim, 80, of Encino. “We know that there’s a waiting list, and when a bed becomes available, we know what that entails. A bed becomes available when somebody else passes away.”

Markheim’s sister-in-law, Miriam, who is deaf and cannot see because of macular degeneration, has been on the waiting list since 2010. It’s not the Jewish Home that has her spirits low — quite the opposite; she’s heard great things — but rather the current state of eldercare in America.

“I rue the day when I’m going to need it,” Marlene Markheim said.

To people like her, it’s little solace that the Jewish Home — the largest single-source provider of senior care in Los Angeles — has 950 beds at two campuses in the San Fernando Valley and serves more than 2,300 people. How can that compare with the vast need faced by a city with more than 14,000 Jews over the age of 85, according to a 2008 estimate by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion sociologist Bruce Phillips?

The case of Markheim’s sister-in-law, who has bounced between a couple of private assisted-living communities in her search for better attention, is emblematic of a senior-care crisis. Americans are getting older and living longer, while lawmakers are cutting back on help for them. This year alone, Medi-Cal and Medicare funding for skilled-nursing centers is slated for double-digit percentage reductions.

A group of Jewish Home residents in 1950. Photos courtesy of Los Angeles Jewish Home

Stuck in the middle are long-term care providers like the Jewish Home.

“It’s pretty devastating,” said Joanne Handy, CEO/president of Aging Services of California, a membership organization that represents the not-for-profit senior living field.

It should be no surprise that these tough times have arrived —and that more are on the way. Nationally, there were nearly 40 million Americans at least 65 years old in 2009. By the time the final baby boomers hit retirement around 2030, that figure is expected to balloon to more than 72 million, according to an Administration on Aging report. That’s an increase of 80 percent in just over 20 years.

And while 13 percent of today’s Americans are age 65 or older, that figure was already close to 20 percent for Jews when the latest available data came out in the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey.

“We’ve all talked about how baby boomers are coming. Well, now baby boomers are here,” said Molly Forrest, CEO/president of the Jewish Home, which turns 100 in 2012 and will begin its centennial celebration this week.

In fact, this was the topic of a speech Forrest gave to the American Jewish Press Association in 1993. She still has her notes from that address, titled “Why Is Aging a Jewish Community Issue?”

“Our numbers of Jewish elderly are almost twice that of the general population,” she said then. “If America is concerned about the ‘graying of America,’ Jews are the ‘white-haired’ members of the growing elder population.”

David Feldman, 84, is one of the home’s hoary-haired elders, figuratively at least. He has been at the Jewish Home for eight years, ever since his late wife overheard their kids talking about the future of the aging couple and decided to take matters into her own hands.

To them, the Home was more than a place where they could grow old together and live comfortably as Orthodox Jews who keep kosher. They needed access to the facility’s medical care for his heart and lung problems, diabetes and other chronic diseases. There was something else that drew them to it, too: peace of mind.

“It’s a not-for-profit, and they promise not to throw you out,” Feldman said.

That, of course, takes money. Seventy-five percent of the Jewish Home’s residents receive government assistance. Any reduction in such aid represents an additional challenge to funding the Home’s services, which include independent living, assisted care, dementia care and skilled nursing.

Still, as the Jewish Home prepares to celebrate its centennial next year — kicked off at its annual Reflections gala on Sept. 18 — its leaders reassure worried residents that they will continue to stand by old promises.

“We’ve been here 100 years,” Forrest said. “We would never consider throwing them out.”

In Los Angeles, the Home has long been the face of Jewish eldercare. It was founded in Boyle Heights in 1912 as the Hebrew Sheltering Home for the Aged, with just five residents.

A celebration at the Jewish Home, 1912. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Jewish Home

Its first president was a Polish immigrant and grocery store owner named Simon Lewis, who was moved by the plight of the destitute elderly and enlisted the support of colleagues to provide shelter to the needy, according to the Jewish Home’s official history.

What started as a home for transient men blossomed over the years, protecting those who might otherwise have been deliberately taunted at the county poor house with offers of pork. By 1916, Lewis and others had raised enough money to provide a permanent home on Boyle Avenue with 16 rooms and five adjacent lots for expansion.

When the Jewish community migrated to West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, the Jewish Home traveled with it. Leaders purchased 11 acres on Victory Boulevard in Reseda in 1967 for what is now known as its Eisenberg Village. In 1979, it merged with the nearby Menorah Village on Tampa Avenue, which dated back to the 1930s, to create a second campus in the Valley.

Today, the Jewish Home’s reach extends to more than 2,300 people, through residents and community-based programs. The average age is 90, and 36 people are over 100. One-third of the residents do not have a living spouse, sibling or child.

Yet the need remains great. Of the 476 people waiting to get in, more than 30 are Holocaust survivors. (There are 57 who currently live there.) The giant gap between available rooms and applicants troubles Forrest deeply.

“That’s unconscionable,” she said. “We are the smallest Jewish home in the nation on a per capita basis. We need to build more. We need to build in a way that makes sense.”

Forrest admits that even building won’t be enough to meet immediate needs, so she’s calling for a plan that will expand services to the community as well.

Therein lies the challenge.

A resident performs the blessing for the Sabbath at the Jewish Home, 1976.

These bold words come at a time when everyone else seems to be cutting back. Earlier this year, state legislators voted to slash Medi-Cal reimbursements to nursing facilities by 10 percent. If the measure receives federal approval, it could mean a loss of up to $3.5 million in revenue at the Jewish Home, which has an $86 million budget.

“These were difficult reductions and not ones that we wanted to make,” said Tony Cava, spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services. But, as a huge part of the General Fund, it had to be part of a solution to a massive state deficit, he said.

Just as bad, the feds plan on pulling back 11 percent of Medicare funds later this year, according to Handy of Aging Services of California. Those are painful cuts to absorb for providers that care for some of society’s most impoverished.

“We don’t have millions in the bank,” Forrest said. “You can’t go through and whack off $3.5 million in a month without us having to close a building. But part of the obligation when you’ve been here 100 years is you have to have a longer view of things.”