1st group home set for developmentally disabled Jews

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California's first home for developmentally disabled Jewish adults is slated to open in the San Jose area early next year, thanks to the efforts of Hatikvah.

The 10-year-old nonprofit, which began as a social and support group for developmentally disabled Jewish adults and their parents, is now accepting applications for residents at the home, which has already been purchased.

Latke parties, Shabbat dinners and a kosher kitchen will provide some of the Jewish flavor at the home.

Located in Campbell, it should be ready in February to become the residence for six adults who require assisted living but can do many tasks on their own.

"People with disabilities feel marginalized to start with, and if you're in a religious minority, then you're doubly marginalized," said Elaine Belkind, Hatikvah's executive director. "Being in a Jewish environment will give people a sense of belonging."

There has never before been a home for developmentally disabled Jewish adults in the state. The closest one is in Seattle. That's why Sally Wieder, a Saratoga resident who has two developmentally disabled children, spearheaded Hatikvah's drive to open one.

"I think it's a group that has been overlooked for a long time in the Jewish community," said Carol Saal, a founding member of Hatikvah Inc. and secretary of the board of directors.

"In the Jewish community, there hasn't been the sensitivity that these young adults have the need for a Jewish environment," added Saal, a Palo Alto resident who is also past chairwoman of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's annual campaign.

The house has received inquiries from more than 30 families and expects even more in the coming months. Unfortunately, Saal said, the state licensing board limits the number of residents to six in a family-type home.

Right now, the seven-bedroom, five-bathroom house is being rented to a Christian Science organization for use as a group home for severely disabled adults. That group has been asked to vacate by Dec. 1 so Hatikvah can begin making final preparations to move in.

The house, in a residential neighborhood, was purchased four years ago by Hatikvah board member Len Shustek. It will be staffed 24 hours a day.

Two staffers have been hired so far: Belkind and Amir Erez, an on-site programming director from Israel. Saal said Hatikvah has a $200,000 annual budget and that start-up costs for the house are between $80,000 and $100,000.

Residents will be in the 18- to 59-year-old age range, although most of the inquiries so far have come from families looking to place those in their 20s or 30s, Belkind said.

The residents' level of disability won't require constant attention. In fact, all of the residents will probably leave the house during the day to attend school or work. They will be asked to do much of their own cooking, or taught to do it, and help out with daily chores.

"They just need a little help to be able to do activities of daily living," said Saal, noting that many young adults, especially by age 25 or 30, feel a strong need to live on their own, away from their parents.

There are a variety of non-Jewish group homes in the Bay Area, but this one will be different.

"When it's December, there's not going to be a Christmas tree in the living room," said Belkind, who is also Berkeley's coordinator of recreational programs for disabled people.

Organizers are excited about the Jewish feel the home will have, from decor to color-coded dishes in the kitchen to Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations.

"We're trying for a reasonable level of kashrut in the home," Saal said. "It's up to the individual if they want to be shomer Shabbat [Sabbath observant]. Is someone allowed to turn on the TV on Shabbat? That's up to them."

Belkind said there will be an intense screening process and residents will be asked to sign a contract. But some things won't be written in stone. For example, using the lawnmower on Saturday morning will be frowned upon, but listening to the stereo on Friday night will probably be OK.

"Maybe we'll make a compromise that they can only listen to Jewish music on the stereo on Shabbat," Belkind said.

Belkind, 55, has been with the city of Berkeley for 13 years and has worked with disabled people since she was 16. She will work only half-time with Hatikvah, unless the success of the Campbell house leads Hatikvah to open more residences.

"That's our long-term goal," Belkind said. "But I tend to be conservative. Let's just see how this goes."

Hatikvah will also continue as an outreach and support group for developmentally disabled young adults and their families, celebrating Jewish holidays and having outings.

Another group in the Bay Are has a similar program. SHILO (Shared Housing for Independent Living Opportunities) was also planning to set up a group home but gave up several years ago because of funding problems.

"You've got to give Sally total credit for sticking with it," said SHILO member Ellen Turbow of Palo Alto. "Hopefully it will be very successful and they will expand."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.