In an era when online publications crowd the email inboxes of computer users, old-fashioned ink-on-paper newsletters fill the physical mailboxes of residents at Jewish senior residences in the Bay Area.
These regular bulletins — produced collaboratively in-house by residents and staff — help create community, maintain mental acuity, spark creativity and boost self-esteem.
They also keep people informed about news, calendar events and birthdays.
And residents don’t read them on iPhones, iPads or other tablets or smartphones. No, in a world of blogs, online newspapers and virtual mountains of digitally transmitted news, the seniors read them the old-fashioned way: on paper.
For people like Francine Hament, a vivacious 85-year-old resident of the Jewish Home of San Francisco, her facility’s newsletter is a perfect outlet.
A regular contributor to the monthly publication At Home since she moved in five years ago, Hament, who readily admits that she always has a lot to say, especially likes to write stream-of-consciousness pieces.
“I like to interview people and write about them, but I especially like to write my own ideas,” Hament said. “Really, it’s whatever pops into my head.”
Fellow resident, Rudy Hooremans, 87, contributes occasionally, “when I have something to say.”
Hooremans, who has been living at the Jewish Home for the past seven years with his wife Miriam, 86, emigrated from Holland to the United States in 1948. When others found out he had written an unpublished memoir about his story of surviving World War II in hiding, they encouraged him to share it in installments in At Home. He also has covered news stories, such as the Jewish Home’s annual fundraiser golf tournament.
After a career in industrial architecture, this is Hooremans’ first foray into journalism. “I’m a bit surprised that they have published everything I have written,” he joked.
The “publishers” for At Home are Ilana Glaun, the facility’s communications officer, and Michael Wickler, who does media design and Web development for the Jewish Senior Living Group.
Glaun and Wickler put together the publication, usually 30 pages, by calling on residents, staff and volunteers to contribute articles, activities summaries, employee-of-the-month profiles and calendar listings.
Glaun says she gets on the phone and walks around, checking in with regular writers and photographers when it is time to go into production mode every month. Five hundred copies are made and distributed to the 400 residents and a mailing list of volunteers and family members. A shorter Russian-language newsletter is also produced, but in lesser volume.
A residents’ committee used to produce the newsletter, a staple at the Jewish Home since the 1970s, but the more advanced age of today’s residents (the average age is 86) has made it necessary for the staff to take the lead.
However, there were individual residents, such as Milton Lewis, who passed away two years ago, who “played an extremely active role with the newsletter,” Glaun said.
A New York Herald Tribune reporter for 34 years starting in the 1930s, and then a reporter for 17 more years on WABC-TV in New York, Lewis would go around the home interviewing people.
“If he could have taken over the whole newsletter, he would have,” Glaun recalled fondly. “He really kept us on our toes.”
The Kibitzer is the name of the 1-year-old newsletter for residents at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville. Published six times a year, it is run by an editorial committee composed of eight residents between the ages of 86 and 103. The paper is only four pages, although the pages recently increased in size from 7-by-81⁄2 inches to 81⁄2-by-11, and the print is larger than in most publications.
“When the group’s weekly meeting is called, everyone arrives early,” Carol Goldman, director of programs at Reutlinger, noted of the enthusiastically serious bunch. “The members have editorial control, and meetings can sometimes get a bit argumentative.”
Other residents can contribute articles, but they have to first be vetted by the committee. Similarly, the naming of the newsletter last year was open to anyone in the RCJL community, but ultimately the committee members had the final say in the matter.
Each member of the committee has a specific section or column that he or she writes, or is responsible for.
Ellen Klebanoff is in charge of “Getting to Know You,” which profiles residents; Art Scharlach writes “Jewish Tales” and also the “Funny Bones” humor column; Bess Sewelson reviews selections from the RCJL library in “Bess’s Book Blog”; Barbara Konowitz writes reviews of restaurants and special outings in “Barb’s Been There”; Joe Gusfield edits the “In Our Lifetime” reminiscences; Ruth Eis dishes in “Did You Know?”; and Irwin Langer provides “My Jewish Perspective.”
Langer’s first article, in the recent March-April edition, was bylined “By Irwin Langer, our newest staff reporter.”
And every issue includes the note: “Proofread by Gerry Gluckman.” That would be 103-year-old Gerry Gluckman!
“Nothing goes to press without Gerry checking it,” Goldman said.
Newsletters are also an important part of life at other Bay Area Jewish senior residences.
Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco publishes the monthly the Olive Press, usually 12 or 16 pages and featuring many colorful photographs along with its text. It’s in its 11th year and includes a resident-of-the-month feature, the “Wellness Corner” health column, a big calendar, recaps and previews of field trips and other events, and an often eloquent poem or piece of creative writing called “Step Onto the Terrace” (usually collaboratively produced by six or seven people).
The new Moldaw Family Residences at the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto recently launched the Moldaw Mosaic, created by residents with production assistance from administrative staff. The eight-page April edition included seven articles by residents — from Passover rituals to a feature on 93-year-old resident Fanny Cohen headlined “The girl from Modesto.” It also had short biographies of new residents, a list of offerings from the JCC next door and a message from Marilyn Israel, the executive director at Moldaw.
At the two L’Chaim House locations in San Rafael, co-owner Manny Kopstein reports that their “newsletters are the lifeblood of communication between the homes and residents’ families,” who are eager to know what activities their loved ones are engaged in.
“We’re not talking about high-level journalism here,” Israel joked affectionately.
She and everyone else knows that the newsletters are not going to win any Pulitzers, but they do maintain a prize-worthy sense of self and community.