Housing the elderly, an urgent mitzvah

Last week's Torah portion demanded that the Israelites protect those considered the most vulnerable in their society. In addition to assisting the orphan and the stranger, the newly freed Hebrew slaves are enjoined to help the widow.

Thousands of years after these words were written down, Bay Area Jewish agencies have once again chosen to fulfill the mitzvah of aiding the elderly.

Ground-breaking for the first Jewish-run "assisted-living" complex in the Bay Area is expected to take place this fall. The projected 154 units at the Scott Street Senior Housing and Social Services Complex will house elderly Jews of all income levels who are frail but not chronically ill.

A number of agencies and individuals have already poured expertise, time and money into the project. Their public fund-raising campaign just began.

It is now time for community members to do their part.

Organizers need to raise a minimum of $25 million toward the $36 million project; the rest will come through bond sales.

The more money that is raised, the greater number of low- and moderate-income seniors who will receive rent subsidies.

The complex, which will sit a few blocks west of Japantown, won't solve all the problems of housing the elderly in the Bay Area. But the assisted-living apartments will fill a gap in the continuum of care that the organized Jewish community offers to Bay Area seniors.

Until now, only healthy or chronically ill seniors could turn to the Jewish community for help with housing.

We should remember that the people who need assistance are not anonymous beings. They are our mothers, brothers, great-aunts and longtime friends.

So we ask you to reach into your pocket and reach out to those in need — just as we were commanded to do so long ago.