By Stacey Dresner
Abe Neigher talked about his late wife Molly, who lived at the nursing home near the end of her life. Now he, at the age of 96, continues to volunteer at Jewish Geriatric Services (JGS) five days a week with his older brother Hy.
Ester Cohen, a Russian immigrant and former employee of the Jewish Nursing Home, now lives at Genesis House, JGS’s senior apartment housing, and volunteers at the home. She said her time at JGS has changed her life.
Nirenberg, Neigher and Cohen are just three of the individuals who spoke from the heart last month at the “JGS 100 Launch and Candlelighting Celebration,” celebrating Jewish Geriatric Services 100th anniversary.
A host of other community members also attended the event, sharing their own stories about JGS and lighting the first in a series of celebratory candles that will be lit at events throughout the year.
The first candle was lit by 100 year-old JGS resident. Anne Feldman.
“We recognize that the act of lighting candles has a special significance in the Jewish tradition, as well as in many other traditions,” said Martha Finkel-Ceppetelli, JGS Chairman. “Whether to welcome Shabbat and holidays, as the central act during Chanukah, or to mark the anniversary of a death, we light candles. As we light our 100 candles, we mark the 100th year of JGS. We remember our past, celebrate our present, and envision our future. These lights continue the commitment made 100 years ago by our community and inspire us to continue to serve our elderly with love and compassion, with dignity and hope, with healing and caring.”
Other candle-lighters at the launch included JGS board members, local dignitaries like Mayor of Springfield Domenic Sarno, the descendants of JGS founders, and representatives of local Jewish organizations.
“The kick-off event for celebrating 100 years of Jewish Geriatric Services was a very special evening for JGS and our community,” said Meredith Dragon, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. “How we take care of our vulnerable populations helps define us as a Jewish people. I am so proud of JGS’ work on behalf of our community that allows all of us to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring our mothers and fathers. JGS is an exceptional organization with a wonderful cadre of volunteers and professionals. This milestone is a remarkable example of the success and dedication of JGS leadership and it is an honor for our community to have such a terrific institution serving the community.”
“Having celebrated the JCC’s 100 a mere 16 years ago, I understand how significant a milestone this is for our sister agency,” added Michael Paysnick, executive director of the Springfield Jewish Community Center. “I was pleased to support and congratulate my colleagues and friends for the incredible work they have done and continue to do everyday caring for our community’s elders through a Jewish values lens. JGS serves as a model agency providing compassionate care which is evident from the remarks of so many families who have accessed the variety of services available.”
“There are a lot of people that have a huge fondness and passion and caring for JGS,” remarked Stephen N. Krevalin, JGS Centennial Chairman. “The concept behind this was to celebrate, of course, but also to showcase JGS – to bring people on campus and to show them how phenomenal a facility and an organization we’ve become, and how responsive we are.”
The opening launch was just one in a series of events planned this year to celebrate JGS’ special anniversary.
“Certainly we are gathering to celebrate 100 years of great accomplishments, but our scheduled events are also a perfect way to bring people to our campus to educate them in all that we offer – a full continuum of services delivered with compassion and commitment to excellence,” Finkel- Ceppetelli said. “We also believe these events are a way to reenergize our loyal volunteers and engage and groom new volunteers.”
The year-long series of events include the JGS Annual Meeting on May 22 during which the board will present the Chairman’s Service Award to past Chairman Michael Frankel, install the new JGS chairman, Susan Kline, and honor volunteers and past-presidents. On June 7, JGS will host “Aging is Changing” a health symposium and annual research day. On Oct. 14 JGS will present “Sharing a Vision for the Future – The Next Century of Service,” and on Nov. 3, an evening gala celebration will be held at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.
Clusters of candles will be lit at each event in celebration of JGS 100th year.
“This is JGS’ 100th birthday, so the idea of 100 birthday candles came to mind,” Finkel-Ceppetelli explained. “From that idea we chose to have a candle lighting ceremony at each JGS100 event honoring special people, past and present, who have in some way played a part in our 100 year promise of caring for our community’s elderly. At our year-end Gala celebration, these candle lighting ceremonies will culminate in the lighting of 100 candles, honoring 100 years of caring for our community’s elderly and those that made it possible.”
SUBHEAD: Values and Traditions
Jewish Geriatric Services was founded 100 years ago as the Daughters of Zion Home for the Aged. The group of founders went door to door seeking funding for a nursing home that would care for the Jewish elderly in Springfield.
“In 1912 thirteen Jewish women saw the need to establish a home for its elderly, guided by the values and traditions of our Jewish heritage. That need still exists today,” Finkel-Ceppetelli said. “Although JGS is an inclusive, nonsectarian organization welcoming people from all faiths, members of our senior Jewish community know they always have a “home” where their spiritual needs will be met and kosher meals served.”
The home was first located at 67 Massasoit St. in Springfield. When it first opened, the home had only 12 residents.
In 1938, the home was relocated to the former estate of Mayor Edwin F. Leonard at 44 Copley Terrace in Springfield. That building was expanded in 1950 and again in 1962. By 1968, the home had a resident population of 114.
In 1972, led by the visionary leadership of Ray Kinsler who early on recognized the large potential for growth, the Springfield Jewish Home for the Aged relocated to it current location, 770 Converse St. in Longmeadow.
Today besides the 200-bed Julian J. Leavitt Family Jewish Nursing Home, which features Western Massachusetts’ first Alzheimer’s specialty units, JGS also includes Genesis House, affordable housing for seniors; the Wernick Adult Day Health Care Center; Spectrum Home Health Care; Ruth’s House, a 64-unit assisted living facility; and hospice care under the Spectrum Home Health Care umbrella.
“Over the years JGS has continued to expand and now offers a full range of healthcare and residential services,” Finkel Ceppetelli said. “We take great pride in caring for the “whole person”, including their physical and spiritual needs. As one of the few post acute healthcare organizations in Western Massachusetts that offers a complete system of care, JGS is the healthcare organization of choice within the Jewish community as well as within the community at large. Although there is increasing competition in Western Massachusetts in the post acute care industry, JGS maintains a strong market share with an occupancy rate averaging well above its peers.
“We at JGS don’t take that ranking for granted and continue to strive for excellence to remain a nationally recognized provider of innovative elder care services delivered with compassion and respect.”
JGS has been a family affair for Finkel-Ceppetelli, a third-generation volunteer at the home.
“My parents volunteered weekly in the [nursing home] coffee shop, and I would join them on occasion,” she said. “Mom made sundaes (heavy on the hot fudge and whipped cream), and Dad, who loved music, would conduct sing–a –longs with the residents. I recall him telling me that there were members of his singing group who couldn’t remember names, faces or what they had for dinner the night before, but still could remember all of the words to songs they learned when they were young. When my father passed away 10 years ago, we created the JGS Bruce Finkel Music Fund in his memory.”
Krevalin’s family has also been very involved at JGS. His grandmother was an active, longtime volunteer of the old nursing home, and then became a resident. He has been involved with JGS for more than 25 years and served as both chairman of the Jewish Nursing Home and JGS.
But listening to all of the moving testimonials at the JGS 100 Launch ceremony, it was clear that many people throughout the community have similar close connections to the organization and its history.
Now, while looking back over its past 100 years, JGS is also prepared to take a look into its future.
“Last year JGS began a formal strategic planning process in response to the changing landscape within the health care industry. Facing the unknown future impact of healthcare reform, a slow economic recovery and a shifting of consumer preferences from skilled nursing homes to community-based services, we knew it was time to reevaluate JGS’ current configuration of services and how they were being delivered,” Finkel-Ceppetelli said. “Continuing the process, this year we formed a Future Vision Task Force to evaluate and consider several new program / service initiatives that will serve to keep JGS financially strong and competitive while remaining true to our mission.”
That new Future Vision will be unveiled at JGS’ interfaith service on Oct. 14 when they present proposed conceptual plans and renderings for the next century of service at JGS.
“Part of the goal of this celebration is to say, we’ve been here for 100 years but we are planning to respond to the community’s needs for the next 100 years in a very proactive, positive way.” Krevalin said. “This isn’t just to sit back and say, Look how far we have come, but really, to say, this is where we have to go.”