Rabbis’ Help and Counsel Providing Daily Support and Encouragement at the Los Angeles Jewish Home
Connections to Care Mobile Hero
Home / News & Events / Newsletter / Rabbis’ Help and Counsel Providing Daily Support and Encouragement at the Los Angeles Jewish Home

Rabbis’ Help and Counsel Providing Daily Support and Encouragement at the Los Angeles Jewish Home

Jan 21, 2021


Building community is hard work—keeping it strong can be even more challenging, especially during a global pandemic, when health and safety limit person-to-person contact and relegate social interactions to virtual experiences such as Zoom and phone calls. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Jewish Home has a secret weapon: its warm, dedicated, dynamic clergy, who continue to engage, stimulate, comfort, and nurture Jewish Home residents and their families.

The key to the job, says Rabbi Karen Bender, Skirball director of spiritual life at the Jewish Home, is always pushing for excellence. "These can be challenging times for everyone, but it's incumbent upon us to summon energy, creativity, and enthusiasm because our residents deserve the very best," she says.

For Bender and her colleague Rabbi Ron Goldberg, rabbi of the Eisenberg Village campus, that means being creative and intentional about infusing daily life with meaning. "The question we've been asking ourselves is, 'Without physical gatherings, how can we still enrich and bring spiritual depth to our residents' lives?'" Rabbi Bender says. "The answer is by staying true to our north star: putting in every effort to make a difference where we can."

Rabbi Bender's approach translates to seeking new opportunities for Jewish Home residents to increase their fulfillment and to maximize their enjoyment of each day. "We had a resident who needed a new mezuzah [a small scroll affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes], so I got permission to go to her room. I stood outside of her door and hung the mezuzah, and as we said the blessing, our eyes made contact with one another through our PPE," she says. "I wasn't allowed to linger there, so I left, and we immediately got on the phone to chat. It was a beautiful experience because it acknowledged the importance of her Judaism and also showed her that the Jewish Home loves and cares for her."

Stories like these, says Rabbi Bender, highlight a small silver lining amidst pandemic life: an emphasis on even more personalized care. "One-on-one is a big theme for us," she notes. "Since we can't get together in groups, Rabbi Ron and I need to be more dialed into what individual residents want and need."

She offers another case in point. "During Chanukah, I passed by a resident's room and waved, and she called out to me, telling me how sad she was to have reached the seventh night of the holiday without touching a menorah with her own hands," she recalls. "I went home and found an extra one of mine, which I sanitized and gave to a nurse to deliver. I then called the resident on the phone and waited with her until she received my package, at which point we both lit our menorahs and said the blessings. In some ways, I think it meant more to her than if we had gotten together with a whole group of other residents because this was just about her. During our call, she was so moved, she started to cry."

Rabbi Goldberg has been teaching residents over the phone, typically focused on topics like Shabbat and the Torah. Rabbi Bender recites the Kaddish memorial prayer and lights Yahrtzeit candles with residents by phone, as well. "Once we accepted our limitations in terms of what we can't do right now, it freed us up to focus on all the ways we can still connect with residents—and there are a lot of them," she says.

The upcoming holiday of Tu B'shevat (on January 28), also known as "the New Year of the Trees," offers one example. "Rabbi Goldberg and I are creating a broadcast to go out over the Jewish Home's closed circuit television," she says. "We're going to do a fruit tasting with residents— they're going to get a delivery of seedless figs, mangos, tangerines, and grapes, as well as two different grape juices. So while we're eating the fruit on camera, they'll be able to do the same alongside us from the comfort of their rooms. We're also planting a tree on each campus. When it's safe for them to do so, residents can come out and help water and care for them. Our goal is for each resident to feel seen, heard, and loved."

In addition to caring for residents, the rabbis also help minister to Jewish Home staff. "The work ethic at the Jewish Home is amazing. People here do more than just show up; they really give it their all, every day," Rabbi Bender says. "So taking care of the staff is a critical part of serving our whole community."

Last fall, in coordination with the Human Resources Department, Rabbi Bender organized a healing service for Jewish Home staff, inviting a minister, a priest, and Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders to participate. "We're a diverse crew, honoring all denominations, so I wanted the service to reflect that," she says. "It gave us an opportunity to talk about healing from an interfaith perspective."

More recently, the rabbis have been counseling staff who are fearful of taking the COVID-19 vaccine. "Some people say they don't need it because everything is in God's hands," Rabbi Bender says. "I try to help them see that faith in God and in the vaccine can be mutually compatible."

Rabbi Goldberg has also been helping staff and residents fill out vaccine consent and authorization forms. "It's not something you'd typically think of as part of a rabbinic job, but it can be enormously comforting for our residents and staff to have us by their side as they prepare to do something new," he says. "Just being present is so important because we're able to tell them that what they're feeling is legitimate—and that we can face it together."

With such an extensive list of things to do, the days are long for Rabbi Bender and Rabbi Goldberg— but they are keeping their heads up. "Our residents at the Jewish Home are just incredible," Rabbi Bender says, "and all of us staff are privileged to be doing our part to support them, especially during these challenging times."

Sign up for the LAJHealth Newsletter, Connections.

Recent Articles

Jan 18

Helping Seniors and Communities Thrive

Compassionate senior care is key at Los Angeles Jewish Health, where caring healthcare teams keep communities happy, healthy, and well. Having the right help is crucial when caring for older adults, ensuring each individual is treated with compassion and respect. That’s why Los Angeles Jewish Health’s top-tier healthcare professionals treat our seniors like family. Formerly the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Los Angeles Jewish Health was founded over a century ago on a simple act of care and compassion. “Our story began in 1912 when a small group of neighbors gave shelter to five homeless Jewish men during Passover holiday,” says Dale Surowitz, CEO and president. “Our founder Simon Lewis recognized a vital opportunity to provide respite and resources to the community, and that remains our commitment today.” Now the largest nonprofit, single-source senior healthcare provider in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Jewish Health is a leading name in comprehensive senior living and care. From adult day care activities and residential living to short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing, the award-winning organization serves more than 4,000 seniors throughout Greater Los Angeles. “I’m proud of the best-in-class care we provide to the community. Without organizations like ours, we know many seniors would go without,” Surowitz says. “We have a long-standing reputation of delivering excellence in care and services for vulnerable members of the community who need us the most, especially seniors living near or below the poverty line.” The nonprofit is funded in part with government support as well as a dynamic network of support groups, individuals, corporations, and foundations. Los Angeles Jewish Health is a vital community resource for all, rooted in Jewish values. Charity, quality, dignity, and fiscal responsibility drive programs and care designed to help seniors thrive. “We take a holistic approach to healthy aging focused on mind, body, and spirit,” says Surowitz. “That starts with comprehensive care tailored to support seniors’ physical and mental health.” Enhancing Health and Longevity“Many seniors live in settings that don’t offer the socialization they need,” Surowitz says. “Caring for psychological needs is an important part of helping seniors keep happy, healthy, and well, so we offer a variety of programs that do just that.” Among those are music therapy, pet therapy, and intergenerational volunteer programming that brings children and seniors together. With a growing list of activities, classes, and clubs, there’s something for everyone at Los Angeles Jewish Health. “Our responsibility goes beyond just providing care. We’re committed to providing every senior their highest quality of life possible,” says Surowitz. At Los Angeles Jewish Health, a broad spectrum of in-residence and community-based services ensure healthcare needs are met and help patients remain independent and active for as long as possible. Across the campuses, compassionate physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and therapists deliver personalized care that supports the individualized needs of those they care for each day. “We’re there each step of the way as care needs increase, whether patients reside at home or on one of our campuses,” Surowitz says. With two independent living campuses, state-of-the-art assisted living centers, and multiple skilled nursing facilities, Los Angeles Jewish Health provides in-residence options that meet the diverse needs of residents and patients. “Other vital services that reach out to the community include palliative medicine, hospice, dementia care, and short-term rehabilitation. Additionally, the all-inclusive Brandman Centers for Senior Care provide a myriad of coordinated services and care management to our participants, all designed to enhance longevity and quality of life,” adds Surowitz. “From senior housing to short-term nursing facilities, we care for over 1,000 adults on-site. Now, we’re expanding our services throughout the community to help seniors stay safe, productive, and happy at home, which remarkably reduces hospitalizations,” he continues. That’s one reason why the health system recently rebranded to Los Angeles Jewish Health, a name that better reflects its broad spectrum of senior healthcare services. And with the senior population anticipated to double over the next two decades, the timing couldn’t be better. “Our goal is to continue providing outstanding services across our campuses while reaching deeper into our communities,” Surowitz says. “Many seniors want to enjoy their golden years at home, and our programs allow them to age in place while enhancing their quality of life with services designed to keep them healthy.” Compassionate Care and RespectBehind Los Angeles Jewish Health’s centurylong legacy is a tenured team committed to compassionate patient care. “The word ‘mitzvah’ in Hebrew represents a responsibility to care for others, and we take that very seriously,” says Surowitz. “As seniors age, they aren’t always afforded the dignity and respect they deserve. We bend over backward to provide that. It really is heartening to see our staff treat residents like family.” Located at Los Angeles Jewish Health’s Hirsch Family Campus, the Annenberg School of Nursing instills that passion in the next generation of healthcare providers. At thisaward-winning nursing school, the one-of-a kind program combines a comprehensive curriculum with hands-on clinical experience. Altogether, the school graduates roughly 150 vocational nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants, and home health aides each year and often hires alums to work across Los Angeles Jewish Health’s campuses. “Many of our students come from underprivileged backgrounds,” Surowitz says. “Our programs provide the education they need to advance while also providing vital medical care throughout underserved communities.” As Los Angeles Jewish Health evolves, the organization plans to expand educational opportunities and programs, yet its dedication to patients remains unchanged. “We’re committed to continuing to deliver the high level of care and services the community has come to know us for, especially as we grow,” says Surowitz. “That’s our hallmark. It’s who we are—and who we’ll always be.”
Read More
Jul 5

With 100 Years of Excellence in Senior Care, Los Angeles Jewish Home Transitions to New Name More Reflective of the Broad Spectrum of Senior Care Offerings Available to All

With a new name and continued focus on meeting diverse senior needs, Los Angeles Jewish Health meets seniors where they are in life, providing a customized senior experience. (RESEDA, CA – July 5, 2022) As it continues to build on more than a century of providing an array of high-quality residential living options and care for Southern California seniors, the Los Angeles Jewish Home is unveiling a new name: Los Angeles Jewish Health. The updated identity reflects Los Angeles Jewish Health’s commitment to offering area seniors a full complement of exceptional programs and services and a comprehensive continuum of care, whether that care is at home, in the community, or on one of their beautiful campus settings. “Over the years, as the needs of our community members have expanded and changed, we have evolved, too, expanding the scope of healthcare services we provide. It is now the right time to transition to a name more reflective of the vast array of senior care services and living options available through Los Angeles Jewish Health, while still remaining true to our mission and Jewish values,” said Dale Surowitz, CEO-president of Los Angeles Jewish Health. Los Angeles Jewish Health is a national leader in senior health and wellness. Established in 1912 in East Los Angeles to assist Jewish men seeking shelter, today Los Angeles Jewish Health cares for a diverse group of thousands of seniors each year through independent housing, adult day care, skilled nursing facilities, short-term rehabilitation, hospice services, and more. What began as a modest residential facility at the turn of the previous century has grown into a leading senior health system, providing for a rapidly growing elder population with a broad range of geriatric and specialty healthcare needs. By 2030, one in five Americans are projected to be older individuals. Seniors 85 and older are the fastest growing segment of this population and are expected to increase fivefold over the next 30 years, from four million in 2000 to 21 million in 2050.“Shifting demographics demand that we sharpen our focus to ensure we are an available senior care resource for every member of our community,” Surowitz said. “As we have for more than 100 years, we look forward to contributing Los Angeles Jewish Health’s extensive experience and medical expertise toward better health outcomes for all seniors.” About Los Angeles Jewish Health: Founded in 1912, and formerly known as the Los Angeles Jewish Home, the non-profit Los Angeles Jewish Health is the largest single-source provider of comprehensive senior healthcare services in the Los Angeles area, serving nearly 4,000 people each year. Thousands of seniors benefit from the Los Angeles Jewish Health’s community-based and in-residence care and services. Programs include: PACE (A Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly); hospice; palliative medicine; community clinics; short-term rehabilitation; and acute psychiatric care. Four campuses (Eisenberg Village, Grancell Village, Fountainview at Eisenberg Village, and Fountainview at Gonda Westside) serve seniors with options for independent living, residential care, skilled nursing care, short-term rehabilitation, and Alzheimer’s disease and memory care. In addition, Los Angeles Jewish Health is home to the Annenberg School of Nursing.
Read More
Mar 15

Los Angeles Jewish Health Resident and Holocaust Survivor Celebrates Bat Mitzvah, and 92nd Birthday, during 100th Anniversary of the first American to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah

(RESEDA, CA – March 15, 2022) History will be made at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Thursday, March 18 as beloved resident and Holocaust survivor Frieda Thompson turns 92 on the same day she will be called to Torah for her Bat Mitzvah. This date also marks the 100th anniversary of when Judith Kaplan, at age twelve, became the first American girl to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah on March 18, 1922. Frieda Thompson, whose parents were murdered by the Nazis, still recalls that one of her mother’s final actions was to ensure her brother was called to Torah for his Bar Mitzvah even as there was chaos all around. Frieda studied for her Bat Mitzvah a few years ago, but COVID-19 prevented gathering as a community at that time. Now, with family flying in for the big day, Frieda will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah during the weekly Shabbat Eve. Service, in the Weinberg Courtyard of the Jewish Home, in front of loving family, caring staff, and dozens of fellow Jewish Home residents. When asked what this day means to her, Frieda offers, “Moses was loyal to his family and to the Jewish people. I too have always felt loyal to my family and the Jewish People.” In commenting on the significance of this lifetime milestone Rabbi Karen Bender commented, “As a small child, Frieda was forced to raise her hand and call out ‘Heil Hitler’. Today her voice rings out as a cherished leader among her peers.” Note: Media interested in attending the Service/Bat Mitzvah must be fully vaccinated/boosted/masked – and must RSVP in advance.
Read More