Rose gardens, rituals enrich Shalom home

"The fountain of youth doesn't exist," said Shalom Home administrator Ann Kaufman. "Having a facility that honors Jewish elders and allows them to be cared for in a dignified manner is a community need."

Kaufman and husband Lee, both registered nurses, addressed that need in March by expanding their former residence on Grosse Avenue to a 3,700-square-foot group home complete with kosher-style kitchen, sitting parlors, a beauty shop, wheelchair-accessible patios and a future art studio. An adjacent hospice room is still under construction.

The couple received a $25,000 loan from Jewish Family and Children's Services to seed the project. The home already has three residents.

"There's a huge retirement population in Sonoma County. A good number of them are Jewish, who don't drive and have limited resources to nurture their Jewish upbringing as they get older," said Diana Altschuler of Jewish Family and Children's services. "Shalom Home helps that need."

Kaufman supervises her round-the-clock staff of certified nurses aides when she isn't cooking, driving residents to appointments or leading daily activities, which include working in the rose garden, walks, chair yoga, and outings to the symphony. Her husband helps with the administration and maintenance.

Kaufman also works one day a week in the postpartum-obstetric ward at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital to brush up on her nursing — she doesn't get much practice at Shalom Home where three spry residents, ages 79 to 98, are constantly on the go.

"I want an active group that's a bit more with it, that can keep up with what I have to offer," Kaufman said, but acknowledges future residents may be non-ambulatory or spending their last days in the hospice.

"They don't have to leave [when their health fails]. There will be a group [to sit shiva] and offer joy at the end," she said.

While not all the residents are Jewish, Shalom Home is full of Jewish life. Kaufman prepares a Shabbat dinner every week, observes Jewish holidays and drives residents to congregation functions. Visitors from United Synagogue Youth and Santa Rosa Congregation Beth Ami's Friendship Circle stop in weekly to play the piano, speak or just shmooze.

What's not to like?

Probably, the $2,200 to $3,000 monthly rent, though Kaufman says the price tag is middle of the road for the residential-care market. She hasn't had any trouble filling rooms. Two future residents are waiting for their private rooms to be finished. One last empty bed awaits a female resident who is willing to share a room.

The three current residents didn't take long to adapt to the unregimented lifestyle at Shalom Home.

"I like it here very much. I have my freedom," resident Jim Smith, 84, said. "I didn't have any friends until I moved here [from a larger home in the area]," and got lost in the daily shuffle of more than 100 other seniors.

Rachel Piotrkowski's best years of independent living were behind her when she moved to Shalom Home. The 79-year-old Bergen-Belsen survivor had become unsteady on her feet and her medication regimen complex. She misses her privacy, but acknowledges that the new pad is a "happy Jewish home."

Selma Cassidy, 98, isn't Jewish but enjoys the new traditions anyway. She even managed to introduce some rituals of her own — nightly "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."

Kaufman hopes that her Jewish home raises awareness about the importance of a community's oldest citizens.

"Our society doesn't honor aging, yet, there's such a wealth of wisdom and respect that should be allotted to the elders," she said, noting that Shalom Home is just a start.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.