Hitting a high note: Excursion fund sends 90 seniors to S.F. opera

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Across the street from the colorful commotion of the Pride Parade in San Francisco two weeks ago, a spectacle of a different sort took place inside the War Memorial Opera House.

An eager contingent of 90 seniors — from three separate Bay Area Jewish agencies — gathered for a little shmoozing and then sat together to watch Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic masterpiece “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

“There was hardly an empty seat in the house,” said attendee Yvonne Beller, who was part of a group from the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center.

Other groups that went to see the June 29 matinee were from the Peninsula JCC Get Up and Go Program (for non-driving adults) and the L’Chaim Adult Day Health Center (which caters mostly to Russian émigrés). The Peninsula JCC group came from Foster City, the L’Chaim group from San Francisco.

All three groups got their funding for the outing from the Senior Excursion Fund, which was piloted in 2006 by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund to help Jewish seniors — often lacking mobility or necessary funds — engage in the cultural life of the Bay Area.

Though each agency decided independently to organize the excursions, all the groups met up and sat near the orchestra pit, turning the time before and after the show into a sizeable social gathering.

The opera itself received a standing ovation from the seniors, who were buzzing about the performance of soprano Natalie Dessay, a rising talent — and a Jew-by-choice — from France.

A regular ticket to the performance would have been expensive, so the Senior Excursion Fund served its function well: It offered tickets at a highly subsidized price and included door-to-door transportation to and from the event.

“When I saw the price of those tickets compared to what we paid,” Beller said, “I was really grateful we could afford [to attend] something like this.”

The Senior Excursion Fund originally supported 340 seniors from four different agencies, but since its relaunch in 2006, it has grown enormously. During the 2006-07 fiscal year, grants from the fund allowed 1,407 seniors from seven agencies to take 41 excursions.

“Large groups of seniors are getting a really magical experience,” said Laura Mason, program officer for the JCEF.

Outings such as the opera excursion, or trips to see plays at ACT in San Francisco, the Berkeley Rep and TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, are just the beginning. With help from the fund, seniors are also able to visit the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, as well as the Cantor Arts Center in Palo Alto.

Mason said members of the senior community want — and need — to get out and about.

“We want to make sure they remain active and engaged, that they continue to reap the benefits of the rich cultural life in the Bay Area,” Mason said. “We try to listen to our partnering agencies [about seniors’ interests], and respond as much as we can.”

After attending the opera in San Francisco, Beller said she recalled seeing Maria Callas, one of the most renowned opera singers of the 1950s, perform “Lucia di Lammermoor” many years ago.

She said being able to attend the same opera again in 2008 with her fellow seniors was “truly a gift” and that the memory of the opera “is going to be with me a long time.”

Information on the Senior Excursion Fund: Laura Mason, (415) 512-6273 or [email protected].