Shabbat lunch, entertainment keep seniors connected

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Whether it's an excerpt from Rossini's acclaimed opera "La Cenerentola" or a lecture by Bruno Wassertheil, CBS' former Israel correspondent, seniors at the MJCC welcome Shabbat every Friday afternoon with a nutritious meal and live entertainment.

"Our goal is to bring Shabbat to as many people as want to enjoy it," said Dini Freeman, senior adult coordinator for the center.

Seniors pay $5 for the entire Shabbat program, which includes a kosher lunch, discussion, entertainment and transportation if needed.

"For some people, this is their only connection to Judaism, for others it's their only chance to get out of the house," said Freeman.

The MJCC recently expanded its monthly Shabbat lunch program to a weekly event, aided by a grant from the Jewish Community Endowment Newhouse Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Totaling $29,263, the grant provides for transportation, increased programming and staff support.

"Offering transportation has helped motivate seniors who would otherwise be isolated," said Greg Phillips, director of the MJCC's CenterStage program.

"Centered around Shabbat, our most precious celebration, the program allows seniors to connect with their Jewish roots and community."

Newhouse grants are allocated to projects addressing compelling human needs in the areas of education, health, religion and elder care, according to Don Abramson, JCE Newhouse Fund advisory committee member

"The Shabbat program provides an avenue for seniors to get involved. Too often seniors are neglected by the community," he said.

Leona Spinrad, a volunteer and founder of the program, remembers how it all began. "It started with someone wanting to invite the community to enjoy Shabbat. We used to do all the cooking at our houses and transport it over," she said. "Today they come for the programming. Back then they came for the food."

Viola Tamarkin, another volunteer and founder of the Shabbat program, said, "We volunteer because we want the center to grow and blossom. Since the grant was approved, we have had better programs."

Presentations this year have included a lecture by Rabbi Lavey Derby, spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Shofar; a spring fashion show hosted by Georgiou; a kosher cooking demonstration by New York Times food editor Molly O'Neil; and a lecture and preview by artists of the San Francisco Opera Center.

"We're always trying to do different programs to meet different people's needs," Freeman said.

Sharon Young, the center's newly elected president, recently attended a Shabbat luncheon accompanied by her mother, Ruth Goldstein. Young emphasized that although the Shabbats are staged as seniors' events, anyone can attend.

"I am a lover of the arts and the quality of the programs is outstanding," she said.

Phillips said the program's growth has helped meet the special needs of Marin County, whose senior population is growing faster than that of any other county in the state.

"Many of our seniors have moved to our community to be near their families and are seeking a Jewish environment for their mental and physical well-being," he said, adding that seniors with no relatives here appreciate becoming part of a family.

Charlotte Roditti feels that the Shabbat lunches give her a chance to get out of the house and bring her back to her roots.

"Judaism is embedded in us. It is important for us to stay together as a community by attending these kinds of programs," she said. "We want it, we need it and we love it."