A roaring success

If you hear some of the residents of Menorah Park humming “Hakuna Matata” or kibitzing about a weird warthog, here’s why:

A group from the San Francisco senior facility recently attended “The Lion King” stage show, courtesy of an “interfaith marriage,” a unique financial grant and some creative matchmaking by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

The grant comes courtesy of the late Clotilde Merle, a non-Jewish woman who loved the arts and culture of the Bay Area. She married a Jewish man and grew attached to the Jewish community. When she died, Merle established a small endowment with the specific purpose of enabling Jewish seniors without the resources or mobility to go out and have a good time — and share in the pleasures she had been lucky to experience.

This kind of specific request requires a kind of matchmaking by the JCEF — to find the best means for accomplishing the goals of a specific grant. According to Mark Reisbaum, director of grants for the JCEF, the decision-making process resulted in a pilot program that would help the residents of Bay Area Jewish senior facilities attend Broadway shows. That program was to focus on those residents who would normally have trouble getting to shows because of physical challenges.

The program debuted with a trip to the musical romp “Mamma Mia” for residents of the Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco. After this proved successful, the JCEF turned to Menorah Park.

Finding a show to match the needs of the facility’s primarily Russian speakers was a bit of a challenge, but “The Lion King” proved to be serendipitous. The musical’s emphasis on costumes, dance and bold visuals made the show easy to grasp. “It seemed like a universal theme,” according to Reisbaum.

At Menorah Park, some residents initially were reluctant to go — until they learned that special accommodations would be made for them, including personal attendants. According to Blossom Dror, public relations director for Menorah Park, of the 30 or so residents who went to the show, one used a wheelchair and many used walkers.

And how did residents enjoy “The Lion King”? Berta Radovilsky said that she had been to other theatrical events, including in the former Soviet Union, but only in the United States could she see a show like “The Lion King.” “It was the first for such a great show. The whole thing was beautiful, with costumes, music, everything.”