Jewish free clinic in Santa Rosa making a big move up

After 13 years of renting space, the Jewish Community Free Clinic in Sonoma County is now the proud owner of its own medical building.

New home of the Jewish Community Free Clinic

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor — who bought a 2,800-square-foot building for more than $600,000 and gifted it to the clinic — the JCFC will open Monday, June 23 in a new facility in Santa Rosa. To celebrate, every synagogue in the area will be taking part in special Shabbat services June 20-22.

The theme: Jewish healing.

“In Torah, there is a requirement that active participation in health is part of our tradition,” said Donna Waldman, the clinic’s director. “Not sitting by and letting people die is part of our tradition. We have a long history of healing.”

Participating in the special Shabbat services will be Congregations Shomrei Torah and Beth Ami of Santa Rosa, Ner Shalom of Cotati, B’nai Israel of Petaluma and the Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center.

Waldman said rabbis will touch on aspects of the Jewish healing tradition in their sermons and Torah study groups over the weekend. JCFC officials will attend, in part to get word out about the free clinic and its vital work and in part to let people know about ways they can volunteer and offer support.

Then on Sunday, June 22, one and all are invited for the hanging of a mezuzah at 50 Montgomery Drive, just a few blocks from the city’s downtown.

a volunteer family nurse practitioner provides a free exam

For the clinic, which was founded by Dr. Robin Lowitz in 2001, it’s a big moment. What started as a one-day-a-week operation in a converted, one-room Lion’s Club clubhouse with a mission to pursue tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repair of the world) has become an important part of Sonoma County’s health care system.

Treating the uninsured, the recently unemployed, the undocumented, the chronically ill and others, the clinic provides free drop-in medical care and social services.

After its first year, the clinic increased its services to a few days a week, and then to seven days a week after it began renting a facility that was better equipped to provide services such as family medicine, vaccines, medications, lab tests, acupuncture and physicals, all paid for by donations.

Doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and medical assistants, more than 150 in all, serve on a voluntary basis and provide what Waldman estimated as more than $600,000 in services annually.

One thing the rented location in Rohnert Park did not have was adequate office space for the clinic’s staff of six, so when a call came seven months ago about a new building in Santa Rosa’s medical district, the board jumped on the donation offer. Escrow closed quickly, and after a little paint and repair work brought the facility up to speed, it is ready for its debut. During the transition, the clinic has been shut for a month.

“Up until now, the clinic has had a low profile in the Jewish community,” said Rabbi George Gittleman of Congregation Shomrei Torah. “Many Jews volunteer there and those who know of the clinic’s work are proud of what they do. What we are trying to do now is raise the profile of the clinic in the Jewish community — for more support, but also to expand people’s sense of what it means to be Jewish in Sonoma County.”

Waldman said the clinic is a godsend to the people who need it, although she has noticed a marked decrease in uninsured clients since the advent of the Affordable Care Act. Now the clinic is helping people sign up for Covered California, she said.

Full health care coverage for all Californians may still be years away, but for a free clinic, it’s a prized future goal.

“We would love to put ourselves out of business,” Waldman said.

Jewish Community Free Clinic mezuzah hanging, 11 a.m. Sunday, June 22, 50 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa. Free. or (707) 585-7780

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.