$1.5 million, new name for Danville senior home

Six months ago, it moved to a new site. Now, the Home for Jewish Parents has a new name.

The 180-bed facility in Danville next week will become the Esther and Jacques Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living.

The name change is in recognition of a $1.5 million donation received from 87-year-old philanthropist Jacques Reutlinger, who made the gift in honor of his late wife. Both lived in the Bay Area for about five decades, including more than 30 years in Berkeley.

Esther Reutlinger battled Alzheimer's disease for several years before dying in January 1998 in Tacoma, Wash. Her agonizing demise opened Jacques Reutlinger's eyes to the progressive damage that Alzheimer's inflicts.

"When my wife got more and more sick and I saw how the disease progressed, I knew I was going to give some funds" for Alzheimer's patients, Reutlinger said last week by phone from his residence at a retirement facility in Tacoma.

He gave the money to the Home for Jewish Parents largely because it opened a wing for Alzheimer's patients when it moved to Danville in August from its Oakland home of 48 years.

Board president Raine Rude helped secure the gift, which is the largest contribution ever made by an individual to the capital campaign of an East Bay Jewish organization, according to a press release.

"I decided to make a large gift to make it possible for them to get moving," Reutlinger said. "They needed the money very badly."

The plan to replace the aging Oakland home was launched in the mid-1980s and became a $25 million capital campaign. Individuals have so far donated $12.5 million, with much of the money going toward purchasing six acres and financing construction of a 110,000-square foot facility.

There are three separate wings with space for 100 in the residential section, 60 in the skilled nursing facility and 20 in the "Traditions program" for long-term and respite care residents with Alzheimer's disease.

Of the three, only the skilled nursing program is at capacity. The assisted living community is just over 50 percent full, and the traditions program currently has 13 patients. Most of them are in early to mid-stages of Alzheimer's.

Jacques and Esther Reutlinger, who met and married in pre-state Israel before moving to the Bay Area in the late 1930s, endowed local Jewish communal organizations for many years. Involved in the military transportation business for years, the pair later enjoyed great success in real estate.

In 1987, the Reutlingers provided one-third of the $1.5 million needed to renovate and modernize the 40-year-old building that houses Berkeley Hillel and Lehrhaus Judaica. The renovated structure, called the Reutlinger Center, has become a center of East Bay Jewish life.

In addition, the couple established an endowment now worth $970,000 to support Berkeley's Judah L. Magnes Museum. They also provided major funding for the museum's Jacques and Esther Reutlinger Gallery, where major changing exhibits are displayed.

"Basically, the Magnes was going to close up shop. We felt, and especially my wife felt, very attached to the museum," Reutlinger said. "Now, it's alive and kicking, and it's going to be a big museum. My wife and I paid the wages for [one] year. Nobody knew it was bankrupt."

The Reutlingers also funded an endowment at the S.F.-based Hebrew Free Loan Association that Reutlinger said is worth "a couple of hundred thousand" today.

The $1.5 million given to the Community for Jewish Living represents "my grandfather's philanthropic desire to support continuity in the East Bay Jewish community," said John Riley, Reutlinger's grandson and the caretaker of the Magnes endowment. Riley is an attorney in San Francisco.

"His main motive would be centered on my grandmother. The East Bay was her community for a large part of her life. This gift is in large part in honor of her…He felt it was important to support an institution doing work to the advantage of Alzheimer's patients."

Harriet Finck, the facility's director of development, said, "We are delighted to be announcing this gift and greatly appreciate the Reutlinger family commitment to seniors of our community."

Jacques Reutlinger said he was thrilled to see the Danville facility make such a strong commitment to Alzheimer's patients.

In the early '90s, when Esther was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Jacques investigated putting her in the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland. Not only did it not have an facility for Alzheimer's patients but "it was a terrible location, a terrible place. It was unbearable," Reutlinger said.

He moved his wife to a secular facility in Tacoma "that takes care of Alzheimer's patients and private people like myself," he said. "It's a very good facility." He is in an independent-living situation with his own apartment.

His $1.5 million gift has gone into the general capital campaign, as have two other large gifts — $1.2 million from the Koret Foundation and $1 million from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Those donors are being recognized, as well. A senior center and the campus at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living have been named the Koret Senior Life Center and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr is J.'s former managing editor and former Hardly Strictly Bagels food columnist. He lives and writes in Mexico.