Groundbreaking ceremony honors two Jewish leaders

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At an emotional Oct. 29 groundbreaking ceremony for the biggest building project ever undertaken by the Bay Area's Jewish community, participants honored the memories of two women whose names will be given to the principal parts of the San Francisco senior housing and social-service center.

"Mom was a dreamer," said John Goldman of his mother, Rhoda, for whom the project's state-of-the-art assisted-living facility will be named.

Speaking to an audience of about 250, he also had warm words of praise for the late Miriam Schultz Grunfeld, a former Jewish Family and Children's Services board member. The site's new JFCS office complex will be named for her.

"She was our board's heart and soul…totally dedicated to the agency's mission," he said.

Jointly planned by JFCS and Mount Zion Health Systems, the 200,000-square-foot, $25 million facility will be "the most comprehensive senior housing and social service center in northern California," said Barbara Isackson, chair of the project's board of directors.

Scheduled for completion in 1999, the seven-story building will be the only assisted-living facility in San Francisco to offer rental units and financial aid for seniors who cannot afford the full cost of care. It will also encompass administrative offices for Mount Zion and JFCS, doubling space for the latter's programs.

During the ceremony at the site adjacent to 1600 Scott St., tears were shed as memories were shared of the two women.

John Goldman said his mother, a major philanthropist who died in February 1996, "believed in the oneness of our community" and "would take on almost any challenge… for the betterment of our senior citizens."

Recalling his late wife's enthusiasm for JFCS and its work, Carl Grunfeld said that Miriam, who died in 1994, "would come home from meetings incredibly enthusiastic," and that "she felt that JFCS was an organization that did nothing but good, and did a heck of a lot of it.

"She also came home very impressed with the quality of the staff of JFCS — she thought they did an amazing job of doing good in the community."

Speaking with tears in her eyes, Anita Friedman, JFCS executive director, said the project had been "one of the most moving and gratifying experiences in my life." She thanked the neighborhood groups that had supported the facility and "went with us to win every fight we had to win.

"To build something like this is not easy, but we've never taken no for an answer," she said. "We all know in our hearts that in this place, we'll heal many families, take care of many children and give a loving home to many older people."

Friedman praised Larry Myers, past president of San Francisco's Jewish Home for the Aged and Menorah Park, for "telling me for 15 years that we had to do this."

Stopping by to add his praise, Mayor Willie Brown said that the project represented "an expression of love."

He called the future Rhoda Goldman Plaza "the most innovative housing operation in the nation," and said that it would be "appropriately named for a woman who was just extraordinary."

Also attending the ceremony were San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano, Sue Bierman, Amos Brown, Leslie Katz, Susan Leal, Jose Medina, Gavin Newsom , Michael Yaki and Leland Yee, and Board of Supervisors President Barbara Kaufman.

Ann Lazarus, Mount Zion executive director thanked the supervisors for their support and recognized Kaufman as "a true champion of this project since its inception."

Following the speeches, widower Richard Goldman was the first to break ground in the middle of the lot where the new facility will rise.

"I know that wherever Rhoda is today, she's looking down on all of us and smiling," he said, as three of his grandchildren clustered around him.

"She knows how important this is to the community."