For senior citizens who have lost a spouse, the golden years can be fraught with isolation, loneliness and sorrow.
But for seniors at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel, the Leisure League changed that.
Although the group disbanded in 2003, its members remember a time filled with fun, laughter, camaraderie and wonderful memories. “There was nothing like it before or since,” said 90-year-old Marian Arnold Goldeen, who served as the group’s president for many years.
In addition to the warm and lasting friendships formed in the group, the Leisure League also provided outreach when members became sick.
“Many children of the members thanked us for having the group,” Goldeen said. “The largest component of our membership was widows. The group … gave us something to look forward to, to socialize, and to go on trips together. We’d often hear from relatives, ‘Thank God there’s a Leisure League. My mother has gotten so much out of it. She’s made friends and has given her a life after her widowhood.’ “
With more than 180 members, the Leisure League became so large and successful that Leah Garrick was eventually hired as administrator to manage activities. The group held monthly meetings and round table discussions, played cards, participated in religious and social events, and took trips to places such as Monterey, Sonoma, Catalina Island, Israel, the Canadian Rockies and the Grand Canyon.
But, Garrick says, it was mainly the Leisure League’s atmosphere that made the difference.
“You never felt like a stranger … everyone was always welcomed. Any new person that walked in the door was welcomed and taken in. That was very unique,” she said.
“It was always very festive, lovely affairs, and we made sure to celebrate the holidays. We always celebrated Shabbat, and had a beautiful service no matter where we were. We even did a Sukkot service in Catalina.”
Serving as the Leisure League’s recording secretary was Rose Freedman, who was honored by the group with a 103rd birthday celebration two months ago. She was also the group’s historian and photographer.
Freedman recalled the Leisure League as a lifesaver for its members:â€ˆ“It kept us active, busy and involved. There were many places I went to that I couldn’t have gone alone.”
One trip that stands out in Freedman’s memory was a fall visit to Vermont. “There were 18 of us on a bus, and the bus driver told his wife he didn’t know what he was getting himself into with 18 Jewish widows. He saw how much fun we had, and on the bus, [where] it says what your destination is, he didn’t put a destination — it said ‘Fun Bus.’ “
Although the Leisure League eventually disbanded due to attrition, those who were involved are proud of their achievements and have memories they will cherish forever. Goldeen, Garrick and Freedman still stay see each other, as well as some of the other surviving members.
“It was a wonderful partnership,” Garrick said. “I did most of the planning and Marian did the meetings … We’re still very good friends.”
Added Goldeen, “It was unbelievable, what we enjoyed through the years.”