Comedy and Camaraderie at Los Angeles Jewish Health
Michael Preminger is always quick to find the joke. It's a quality the veteran stand-up comedian, who has been performing on some of the nation's most prestigious stages for decades, brings with him as a dedicated volunteer at Los Angeles Jewish Health (LAJH).
"The residents at Los Angeles Jewish Health are hilarious and such a joy to be around," Michael says. "When I first started volunteering, I asked a lady named Edna, who was 104, whether she would ever consider dating younger men. Without missing a beat, she looked at me and said, 'Are there any other kind?'"
That camaraderie and humor have been bringing Michael back to LAJHealth as a volunteer for more than 10 years. Career success was professionally satisfying (his many television appearances have included The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Dinah Shore Show, and more. He also co-wrote the critical and commercial hit Nothing in Common starring Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason), but it is his weekly visits to LAJHealth that give him rich personal rewards.
"I've learned so much from the residents and have gained a lot of wisdom. I remember one woman named Rita who would say in Yiddish, 'Vos geven iz geven'—essentially, 'What was, was.' I think it's a very profound way of looking at the world, essentially acknowledging that we can't recapture the past, we can only look ahead," Michael says.
One of the things he loves most about volunteering at LAJHealth is hearing residents' stories. "One person told me she went dancing with the Dodgers when they were still in Brooklyn!" he exclaims. "These folks have done such incredible things, and through their stories, I feel I've been all over with them, from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires."
Michael himself has New York roots: Born in the Bronx, he headed to Los Angeles in 1975 to pursue his passion for showbusiness. He raised a son and a daughter while climbing the rungs of comedy stardom. Now a grandfather, his touring days have slowed down, and he is able to enjoy other pursuits like giving back to Los Angeles Jewish Health.
"I mainly do trivia with the residents, quizzing them on old movies, TV shows, and music," he says. "Some of them really know their stuff, and the questions lead to super interesting conversations about their lives."
As a veteran of the entertainment industry, Michael would like to see more of his colleagues doing their part to uplift older adults at LAJHealth. "Especially in this town, where you have thousands of actors and comedians just sitting around all day waiting for their agents to call, I'm astounded by how few people make it a priority to volunteer," he muses. "They have the time; they should come join us!"
Michael arrives at LAJHealth every Tuesday and Thursday like clockwork, and he says it's consistently the highlight of his week. "Volunteering here is one of the best things I've ever done in my life; it's so fulfilling, and I get such a high from it," he says. "The hours between Tuesday and Thursday always feel too long—I just can't wait to come back!"
Los Angeles Jewish Health is currently recruiting volunteers of all ages (18 and up) – from individual adults to school groups and synagogue youth groups. Contact Stacy Orbach, director of volunteer services, for more information: (818) 774-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.