Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Active beyond their years

On a Friday afternoon in late June, 25 seniors walk, amble and/or glide into the familiar surroundings of the common room at Chambrel Assisted Living Facility in Longwood. For the next 45 minutes this gathering place will serve as “Congregation Chambrel,” where a weekly Shabbat service hosted by the Jewish Pavilion provides Jewish seniors with a sense of community, as well as a place for prayer. Although the average Pavilion “congregant” is well over 85 years old, Chambrel seniors are active and vital members of the Jewish community.

Meet Berny Raff, Chambrel resident and Jewish Pavilion senior. Although Berny is recovering from a series of recent surgeries, his commitment to the Jewish community is in robust health. At 86, Berny is a regular at Pavilion services and is current president of Congregation Ohev Shalom’s senior group. Berny shares that as a young man he attended, not one, but two Yeshivas in the New York/New Jersey area.

Today, Berny still pulls a double shift, attending a Friday Pavilion Shabbat service, and a Saturday one at Ohev. “My late wife, Eleanor, was at Regent’s Park with just one or two Jewish seniors,” says Bernie, “and it was not easy to fill up a service. Chambrel has a Jewish population of about 40 percent. A weekly service is something the residents want.”

Chambrel resident and former Sunday school teacher, Helen Tishman, attended weekly Shabbat services, as well as religious school for more years than she can count. In fact, Tishman, a dedicated Jewish educator, was the first certified religious school teacher in the state of Florida in the 1950s.

When Helen began to have difficulty walking, she was concerned that a lifetime of Jewish continuity would be disrupted. “Unfortunately, because of this (an electric scooter) it is difficult to attend services outside of Chambrel,” says Helen. “Thanks to the Pavilion I can still attend weekly services and partake in Jewish learning.”

At 92, Helen doesn’t just attend services. Tishman is the Pavilion’s most senior volunteer. Avoid Helen’s path, as she zips around in her electric scooter, passing out plates of challah and prayer booklets. She arrives early to assist Emily Newman, a Pavilion program director, in any area that needs attention. Helen continues to be a great supporter of all things Jewish, and was chosen to deliver introductory remarks at the Pavilion’s annual gala in April, serving as their elder-stateswoman.

Sylvia Leitner and Ruth Naftel are Chambrel residents and Pavilion seniors, both hailing from South Florida. In addition, both women were active in their respective synagogues prior to retirement. Sylvia notes that she enjoyed her responsibilities as bookkeeper at Temple Beth Shalom in Boca Raton; Sylvia says that Pavilion Shabbat services bring a feeling of home and stir up memories of life in Boca.

Ruth served as program chairwoman of her synagogue sisterhood in Pembroke Pines. On this Shabbat afternoon she is joined by granddaughter Hudson Cosgrove-Naftel, a student at Greenwood Lakes Elementary in Longwood. Ruth remarks, “The Pavilion’s Shabbat service is something to look forward to during the week. Hudson enjoys it, and it is an activity I can partake in with my granddaughter.”

“Though we hold more than 40 Shabbat services every month at a variety of ALFs (assisted living facilities), our service at Chambrel is always a special one because of senior participation, says Nancy Ludin, Pavilion executive director. “Just this week alone Sue Shames led the prayer over the Shabbat candles and Lou Dion singing (with his son, Ron, at his side) lent harmony to our prayers. Call our office at 407-678-9363 to attend a service and meet our wonderful seniors.”


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