Executive Director Rabbi Matt Rosenberg in the dinning room at the Albert Einstein Residence Center in Sacramento, July 12, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Executive Director Rabbi Matt Rosenberg in the dinning room at the Albert Einstein Residence Center in Sacramento, July 12, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Sacramento Jewish community selling its low-income senior housing as Jewish population dwindles

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Mourning the loss of her husband of 53 years, Carol Salasky moved in 2006 from the home she and Leonard had shared in Sacramento to the Albert Einstein Residence Center, a housing complex run by the Jewish community for low-income seniors.

“I didn’t want to live alone,” Salasky, 92, said in an email to J.

She was also seeking the company of other Jews and found that community at the Einstein Center, a Sacramento complex with 78 one-bedroom apartments subsidized by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.

When Salasky moved in 17 years ago, dozens of Jewish residents would mingle and enjoy weekly Shabbat dinners cooked in Einstein’s kosher kitchen, according to Les Finke, who served as the facility’s executive director from the time it opened in November 1981 until February 2021.

Today, fewer than 20 Jewish residents live at Einstein Center, demand for kosher meals has dwindled, and the apartments, which have not been significantly renovated since the facility opened, require millions of dollars in upgrades, said Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, who took over as executive director in 2021.

This combination of factors led the Einstein Center’s board of directors to vote in March to sell the facility. The board has entered contract negotiations with a buyer, and the sale is expected to become final early next year after approvals from HUD and the state attorney general.

Salasky isn’t enthusiastic about what the sale might mean. “I just accept it, I guess,” she said.

“I hope for the best, the building needs an upgrade,” her friend and fellow Jewish resident Lois Anapolsky, 93, said in an email sent to J.

But the organized Jewish community says the money from the sale will specifically assist elderly and disabled Jews, which is a requirement in Einstein’s original articles of incorporation. The board is already considering the creation of a permanent endowment to meet that mandate, which could increase funding at least fivefold for Jewish Family Service of Sacramento and benefit this population across the region, Rosenberg said.

Ideas on the table include a kosher food bank, transportation assistance, emergency financial aid, home health care, a “robust” mental health program and a chaplaincy volunteer center, Rosenberg said.

Willie Recht, CEO of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region that oversees JFS, said the facility’s sale will create the “largest infusion of dollars into our Jewish community from the Jewish community.”

Edward Gordon looks on during a town hall meeting at the Einstein Center on July 12, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Edward Gordon looks on during a town hall meeting at the Einstein Center on July 12, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

The Einstein Center went on the market in the spring, and offers came quickly, Rosenberg said. The board has entered into contract negotiations with an undisclosed buyer that is offering more than the $14 million originally anticipated, he said. The proceeds will pay off the $2.4 million mortgage, with millions of dollars left over to infuse into services.

In addition, the sale will require the buyer to pay for extensive renovations to all of the apartments.

“My residents don’t have dishwashers, they don’t have garbage disposals,” Rosenberg said. They will get both as part of required renovations, he said. “They’re going to get new flooring, new appliances, new everything, and it’s going to be a beautifully renovated building and I can’t wait to see it.”

When Einstein Center opened its doors in 1981, it was a true Jewish communal effort.  Three synagogues in Sacramento — Congregation B’nai Israel, Mosaic Law Congregation and Congregation Beth Shalom — formed the original board. About three-quarters of the residents were Jewish, according to Finke.

The scarcity of Jewish residents at Einstein today isn’t because fewer Jewish seniors need affordable housing or services, Recht said.

“We have hundreds of seniors in our area that we provide services to through our limited JFS, whether it’s meal deliveries or holiday gift bag dropoff or transportation to doctor’s appointments, or even synagogues,” he said.

At least in part, more and more non-Jews have applied to live in Einstein Center over the years, and government-subsidized housing cannot discriminate based on applicants’ religion.

“It’s primarily due to many people of all backgrounds signing up for our wait list,” Rosenberg said.

Anapolsky, a longtime member of Congregation B’nai Israel whose son is a former president there, moved into Einstein Center in early 2022 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

She had played mahjong at the center for many years before that. Over time, she saw Einstein’s Jewish community shrink and then become “more of a closed community due to Covid.”

Randy Aprill, who served as Einstein Center’s executive chef for six years before leaving in May, agreed. Even as the pandemic waned, he noticed that a majority of residents continued to eat their meals in their apartments, rather than together in the dining area.

“When I left, there were still 25 people coming out to eat. Think about 25 people in a 100-seat restaurant,” Aprill said, recalling the days before Covid when the dining area was a much more lively, bustling with residents during dinner time, and particularly Jewish residents.

A sign at the entrance to the Albert Einstein Residence Center in Sacramento, July 12, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
A sign at the entrance to the Albert Einstein Residence Center in Sacramento, July 12, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Under the new owners, the complex will no longer operate a kosher kitchen, but Rosenberg said that any resident can continue to receive kosher meals though the delivery program that Einstein Center and the Federation began at the start of the pandemic.

Barry Broad, president of the Sacramento Federation, said other ideas for continuing to serve Einstein Center’s remaining Jewish residents include hiring a community rabbi who can lead services for Shabbat and Jewish holidays there and at other Jewish organizations.

“They’re looking at what has been done, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked” in other Jewish communities, Broad said. “We just have to figure out what we need.”

Currently, JFS has one part-time social worker and one part-time seniors program associate, with support from dedicated lay volunteers, Recht said. He expects that the money from the sale of Einstein Center can boost staffing to full-time positions.

Residents have raised other concerns about the sale, especially about where they will live while renovations are underway.

“While I can’t speak on behalf of the buyer, I have attempted to reassure our residents that the proposed relocation plan will meet their needs and the needs of their pets during the short relocation window,” Rosenberg said in an email sent to J.

Even as Einstein transitions out of Jewish management, there are other hubs of Jewish life for seniors in the Sacramento area, though not federally subsidized.

Eskaton Village Carmichael, a nonprofit, secular residential center for seniors just outside Sacramento, has a much larger Jewish community, according to Rosenberg.

Sixty people participated in the Passover seder at Carmichael in the spring, dozens celebrated Rosh Hashanah together in September, and residents host a Shabbat dinner every first Friday of the month, according to Zach Melchiori, executive director of marketing and communications for Eskaton.

Rosenberg, Broad and Recht each echoed a desire to see that kind of thriving Jewish senior community emerge from the money that Einstein’s board invests in Jewish Family Service.

“It’s never easy. People can be reluctant to change,” Recht said. “I truly believe that the good that will come out of a move like this will be felt in this Jewish community for generations.”

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Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.