Drive intensifies to build center for South Bay senior housing

"We don't have it. We need it."

The "it" Helen Diller refers to is an assisted-living facility for elderly Jews in the South Bay.

From south of San Francisco all the way down to Santa Cruz, "there is nothing for Jewish assisted living," said the Woodside philanthropist.

But thanks to her, a board of about 26 people, and a group of benefactors and volunteers, there will be.

So far, about $4.5 million has been raised for the Helen Diller Center for Jewish Assisted Living in San Jose, to be built west of Bascom Avenue on a parcel of land near the intersection of highways 17 and 85 near Los Gatos.

Two other properties are being explored, "both adjacent to ours so that we will end up with four acres of land," said Bernard Director, the president of the proposed center. "We have approximately two acres now."

The new center will offer a kosher kitchen, beauty parlor, physical therapy center, computer room, library, coffee bar and "a really nice dining room where people will be able to go into the facility and say, 'It's a really nice dining room,' and enjoy it," Director said. "It will be an area where families can come and meet, set aside from the rest of dining area."

So far, the plans call for 120 apartments — 84 for assisted living and 36 for Alzheimer's patients or skilled care.

But that's not definite, as it remains unclear whether the center will obtain the additional land.

"We're doing this step by step," Director said. "We have discussed the next steps, but we haven't done anything concrete yet because until you get all the land, it's very difficult to know exactly how you're going to put a footprint down on the land."

The "footprint" is the architectural term describing the outline of the building.

Citing Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco and the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville as examples he'd like to emulate, Director noted, "This is not the old people's home you may have in your mind."

The project got off the ground about five years ago, when some board members of the San Jose Chai House, a residence for independent seniors, decided some of its residents would need the next step in the future: an assisted-living facility.

"You go to Los Angeles, and on every block there are Jewish homes," said Diller. "There are so many Jewish people on the Peninsula and in the South Bay with elderly parents, and no facility."

Right now, the facility is still in the fund-raising phase, with a dinner planned for Sunday to benefit the Al Frank Memorial Library, which would be part of the center.

Director estimates that the total project will cost about $28 million, so there is still much fund-raising to be done.

"At first I thought it should run in the vicinity of $20 million to $22 million, but inflation raises its head," he said.

Director said organizers had not yet approached the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, but likely would in the future. He said they hope to raise the money from grants and various foundations in addition to individuals.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."