$15 million Danville home for elderly ready to open

The newly finished Home for Jewish Parents in Danville currently sits empty — a brief moment of rest before it starts to bustle with the influx of Jewish seniors.

Carpenters are now putting finishing touches on the 110,000-square-foot property at 4000 Camino Tassajara, which is poised to open on Tuesday, Aug. 24. Soon the banging hammers will be replaced by the hum of 180 residents.

The Home, coated in faux adobe and nestled in golden foothills, is designed to be buzzing with jam-packed activities.

In one day, a resident will be able to attend services at the synagogue, eat restaurant-style in the dining room, grab some books at the library, snack at the outdoor cafe and stroll about the gardens.

"It's intentionally supposed to be like a village," said Robert Swatt, the Home's architect, who is based in San Francisco. "It's a place where people live meaningful lives, not just convalesce."

A handful of rooms are still available. Although all who are currently registered to live in the facility are Jewish, residents of all faiths are eligible.

So far, the average age is 85.

Having raised a total of $14.3 million, the Home's capital campaign amounts to the largest single fund-raising drive ever held in the East Bay Jewish community.

The opening of the Danville facility means the closure of the Home's 48-year-old Oakland residence on 26th Avenue. With an increasing number of elders in the East Bay, the Home outgrew the Oakland building, which had room for only 95 residents on an area about one-third the size of the new Danville site.

"This is a project that was needed in the community," said Phil Goodman, a Rossmoor resident and a member of the Home's board of directors. "The old facility in Oakland is outdated and inadequate."

The only other Jewish senior-care facility in the Bay Area is San Francisco's Jewish Home for the Aged, a skilled nursing facility with 455 beds and a kosher kitchen.

In August, residents at the Oakland facility will be transported to Danville, and the old property will be sold soon after. The money from the sale will go to an endowment for the new site.

A dedication ceremony and Torah procession, attended by 300, formally welcomed the Danville building into the Jewish community on Sunday. During the festivities, shofars resounded, mezuzot were hung, and the Home thanked its major donors.

The Home still must raise $700,000 and will continue to raise funds to establish an endowment.

"Even though 900 families in the East Bay have contributed to our capital campaign, we hope the momentum created by the dedication of our new home will carry over into our community and inspire others to take an active part in this important endeavor," said Raine Rude, president of the Home's board of directors.

The Danville facility is divided into three sections based on levels of self-sufficiency: assisted-living, skilled-nursing, and care for Alzheimer's patients in a closed-door wing.

"It's really the wave of the future, bringing people with different needs together," said Swatt.

Spread throughout the building are a melange of art and decorations on traditional Jewish themes and modern motifs. "Perpetuation," a sculpture by Neil Goodman, covers a wall in the main lobby. It's composed of various bronze pieces from animal heads to shapes that look like primitive biblical-era tools. The synagogue also has two stained-glass windows.

Balancing those contemporary pieces is an intricate array of Old World Judaica from the collection of Ruth Eis, an Oakland artist Eis' artifacts, spread out through the building, include three pre-Holocaust stained-glass windows rescued from synagogues in Eastern Europe.

The non-denominational synagogue, which seats about 35 people but has plenty of room for overflow on the High Holy Days, will have a lay religious leader, Barry Ring, for regular Shabbat services.

Putting the finishing touches on the wooden ark, carpenter Al Resa of Fresno sheared the edges off some wood to make a shelf for the Torah. "They didn't explain to me what I was building," he said. "But I was curious, so I asked. I like to know what I'm building."

Jewish elements pervade the Home, where directional signs use Hebrew letters in the background. All food is kosher, with separate milk and meat kitchens.

Modern features prevail. HJPTV, the Home's own closed-circuit TV station, will air 24 hours a day. Residents can find a calendar of the day's events on the channel, and services will be broadcast for those who are unable to attend.

Other amenities include a crafts room that will have bingo, a computer room, and a barber shop and beauty salon. Short paths circling the building allow for relaxing walks. The individual suites are large.

"It's beautiful," said David Denton, the Home's administrator. "With views of Mount Diablo, the Home's location is definitely one of the plusses. The facility is open and light and airy, which makes it very appealing."

Some Jewish community members aren't so sanguine. They have voiced dissent, in particular, at the Home's abandonment of its Oakland location.

Arnoldine Berlin of Oakland wrote numerous letters to the Jewish Bulletin decrying the sale. Other East Bay Jewish community members echoed her sentiments in phone calls and letters.

"The Jewish community in Alameda County purchased and supported the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland for a great many years," wrote Berlin.

"The move to Danville of that facility…has left many upset, for there hasn't even been a promise made to provide a bus, or other transportation to those from here who will need to visit loved ones regularly. The result will undoubtedly be that more Jews will end their lives in non-Jewish facilities."

In response to such criticisms, Denton said residents and others need to give the new facility some time to take its place in the larger Jewish community.

"Moving for anybody can be traumatic, especially for many residents who've lived in Oakland for a long time," he said.

"However, the beauty is that all of the residents will be moving [together] to the new facility in Danville. What has made the Home in Oakland special is what residents have brought to it. That can be re-created in our new home."