Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Jewish Pavilion brings the flavors of the High Holidays to seniors


September 7, 2018

The Jewish Pavilion works with senior living facilities to bring Jewish residents a festive holiday table with traditional dishes such as matzoh ball soup.

Ask people what they look forward to as the High Holidays approach, and most will respond with descriptions of a treasured family recipe for apple-honey cake or a steaming bowl of matzoh ball soup, redolent of dill, carrots and chives.

For residents of senior living facilities, especially those who are ill or who do not have family in town, going to synagogue and sharing traditional holiday foods with family are not possible. So the Jewish Pavilion brings Jewish holidays and Jewish culture and Jewish food to facility-bound Jewish seniors. When they can't come to the Jewish community, it brings the Jewish community to them.

Weeks before the holidays begin, the Pavilion's four program directors send out packets to activity directors, chefs, and other administrators at the buildings whose Jewish programming they oversee. The packets explain the approaching holidays and detail when and how they are celebrated, giving the dates for special programs the Jewish Pavilion is hosting at their buildings.

They also explain the significance of traditional holiday foods such as round challah and apples with honey in celebration of the holidays and suggest setting special holiday tables for Jewish residents. To ensure the facilities understand what residents will expect at holiday meals, sample Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur break-fast menus with detailed recipes are included.

The facility staff, many of whom are not Jewish, appreciate the guidance because it helps them to make their Jewish residents feel more at home. Sonata West, a newly built facility that opened just after last year's High Holidays, is planning a lovely Rosh Hashanah banquet this year, following on the success of its Passover seder meal this past spring. Ashley Baptista, lifestyle director at Sonata West, said that Chef Juan Garcia, who heads their kitchen, is planning a full dinner with challah, matzoh ball soup, brisket, kugel and carrot tzimmes.

It's a highly anticipated meal: "We've already had quite a few of our Jewish residents RSVP and ask if they can bring their families," said Baptista in August. Walter Goldstein, the Pavilion's program director for south Orlando, will be on hand to conduct the program and has high praise for Baptista and the Sonata West staff, who he said are really responsive and work hard to make his programs, including his monthly Shabbat programs, a great success.

"I enjoy doing this for the residents, and what I really like about when Walter comes in is that he includes everyone, not just our Jewish residents," said Baptista. "It makes it fun for everyone."

Brookdale Altamonte's activities director, Rich Besser, is Jewish, and each year he puts a great deal of effort into making the High Holidays special. "He gets one of his residents to decorate a gorgeous table," noted Nancy Ludin, the Pavilion's executive director. "In the past, he's had a resident who was a professional decorator. They go shopping together and buy things to make it special. It's a really big production."

Besser brings in roasted chicken from Publix and has the kitchen staff make matzoh ball soup. Each year, Jewish Pavilion volunteers and staff members supplement this holiday banquet with homemade specialties from their own kitchens. Past meals have featured Bernice Davis' honey cake, Pat Rubenstein's brisket and other kind contributions. This year, Ludin's own tzimmes and delicacies from a few volunteers will add homemade holiday flavors to the meal.

Sometimes the residents themselves provide their own family recipes for the chefs to prepare. For example, Helen Tishman, who passed away some time ago, "used to go down to the kitchen a month before the holidays and hand the chef at Brookdale Island Lake all of her recipes for the holidays," recalled Ludin. "She insisted that they make it exactly the way she had it-in fact, she even sat and cooked with them. And she was 90 years old!"

At Oakmonte Village's Valencia building, an independent living facility with a sizable Jewish population, Pavilion volunteer and former program director Cathy Swerdlow works closely with staff to make each holiday special. Oakmonte entertainment director Renee Court said that Cathy emails them menus and recipes and helps them arrange anything else that's needed.

"Every time we get a new chef, she comes in and meets with them and explains to them what is expected and it's very helpful," Court said. Court and several other Oakmonte management staff members serve the meals at these programs, at tables set resplendently with holiday foods and décor.

Swerdlow's programs-including bimonthly Shabbats, monthly lunch-and-learns, and Jewish holiday programs--draw large crowds, filling the building's performing arts center to capacity. For the holiday programs, said Court, they invite only Jewish residents because they don't have the space for everyone. "Of course the residents want to bring their families," she explained. And Jewish residents of Oakmonte's next-door Cordova assisted living building also come to these holiday programs.

In all, about 30 special Jewish Pavilion programs are planned for the High Holiday season. The coordination among Pavilion staff, facility staff and volunteers involves a great deal of careful planning that begins each year more than a month before Rosh Hashanah. Residents and their families are invited to join in, and the spirit of the High Holidays is kept alive at Orlando's senior living facilities and in the minds and hearts of their Jewish residents.

Jewish Pavilion’s 2018 High Holiday Schedule

Join the Jewish Pavilion program directors and volunteers for a High Holiday service at any of these locations. The services are open to all. If you are looking for an address, please visit The Jewish Pavilion website, http://www.jewishpavilion.org and click on facilities.

Sept. 7 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Brookdale Dr. Phillips II

Sept. 7 noon-1 p.m. Brookdale Lake Orienta

Sept. 7 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Brookdale Lake Mary

Sept. 7 2 p.m.-3 p.m. Life Care of Altamonte

Sept. 7 3 p.m.-4 p.m. Lake Mary Health & Rehab

Sept. 7 3 p.m.-4 p.m. Oakmonte Village Siena

Sept. 7 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Brookdale Island Lake

Sept. 10 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Mayflower (downstairs)

Sept. 10 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Inspired Living

Sept. 10 1 p.m.-noon Brookdale Ocoee

Sept. 10 5 p.m.-6 p.m. Oakmonte Village Valencia/Cordova

Sept. 12 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Westchester/Regents

Sept. 12 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Savannah Court Oviedo

Sept. 13 5 p.m.-6 p.m. Sonata West

Sept. 14 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Encore at Avalon Park

Sept. 14 noon-1 p.m. Grand Villa

Sept. 14 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Allegro

Sept. 14 3 p.m.-4 p.m. Mayflower Country Kitchen

Sept. 14 3 p.m.-4 p.m. Village on the Green

Sept. 14 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Atria

Sept. 14 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Westminster Winter Park Towers

Sept. 17 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Westminster Towers

Sept. 20 1 p.m.-2 p.m. Kinneret

Sept. 24 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. The Watercrest of Lake Nona

Sept. 28 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Plantation Oaks


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