Movin toward move-in day: Moldaw Family Residences taking shape and building community

Marilyn Israel compares it to giving birth.

The new executive director of the Moldaw Family Residences at 899 Charleston says she still has labor pains to endure before the Palo Alto senior housing project opens this fall.

Marilyn Israel

The Moldaw Family Residences is part of the sprawling, eight-acre Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, which also includes the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, a Jewish preschool and a performing arts center.

It is intended to become the central address for the south Peninsula Jewish community. And for nearly 200 couples and individuals, the Moldaw community literally will be their address.

“It’s spectacular,” Israel says of the Moldaw Family Residences and the entire Taube Koret campus.

The 300,000-sqare-foot facility is an adjunct institution of the Jewish Home in San Francisco. Most of the residences will be independent living senior apartments, though 11 will be reserved for seniors with dementia. Each costs from $700,000 to $1 million, with 24 units priced below market rate (in the $300,000 to $400,000 range).

So far, around 75 percent of the 193 units have been sold, which puts occupancy a little behind projections for this stage. But Israel is not worried.

“Interest remains strong,” she says. “We’ve done a number of events and had great turnouts. The majority of [cancellations] are for health reasons. In a startup like this you see 20 to 30 percent [cancel] before you open your doors. Fortunately for us, the Palo Alto housing market has remained strong.”

Bee and Manny Cherkas

For one Palo Alto couple, the Moldaw project offered not only a prospective home, it even provided an ad hoc dating service.

Dental hygenist Bee Shtulman Cherkas, 72, and retired electrical engineer Manny Cherkas, 77, will soon celebrate their first wedding anniversary. And come opening day, they will live happily ever after in the Moldaw.

They met less than two years ago at an early meeting of prospective residents. “Moldaw brought us together,” says Bee. “We independently decided we wanted to live there. We talked a lot in the meeting and found we had a lot in common.”

Adds Manny: “Went on a hike, fell madly in love and less than seven months later we were married. I didn’t want her to get away.”

Because both remain physically active, they like that an automatic JCC membership comes with their purchase of a Moldaw residence.

“I look upon this as a wonderful lifestyle,” says Bee. “We wanted to move into Moldaw when we were still young and physically able to participate in things. The Wii game is something I’m really excited about.”

For six years, Manny sat on the board of Palo Alto’s Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center (now the Oshman Family JCC), playing a role in the development of the campus. “We wanted to make sure we were part of building this,” he says. “We like the multigenerational aspect, the commingling of seniors and young adults. It will have a positive effect on the young and the old.”

The front entrance to the Moldaw Family Residences at 899 Charleston is still under construction on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto.

Daniel Ruth, executive director of the Jewish Home, has played a key role in the progress of the Moldaw residences from day one. He’s glad people like Bee and Manny Cherkas are on board. But he says there remains much to do before the grand opening.

“From a construction point of view, things continue to move along quite well,” Ruth says. “From a fundraising point of view, the goal [for the Taube Koret campus] is $140 million. We’re at $137 million. We think it will be both a financial and psychological boon to have the goal completely met prior to [residents] moving in.”

The total cost of the Taube Koret campus is $300 million, according to a Koret spokesperson, with $160 million coming from a bond measure. Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation donated $20 million, and $10 million came from Ken Oshman, founder of ROLM Corp., and his wife, Barbara.

The residences were dedicated with the name Moldaw thanks to a $10 million gift from the Moldaw Family Supporting Foundation.

Ruth took part in the national search for a director of the residences. He says Marilyn Israel impressed him and his colleagues as “the whole package.”

“Marilyn had the experience and background in both developing and opening a high-end continuum-of-care retirement community,” he says. “She had the technical knowledge and she’s a lovely person. She brings warmth, interpersonal skills and a certain Yiddishkeit.”

A view of the Jessica Lynn Saal Town Square includes the adjoining Moldaw Family Residences (rear) and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Sports and Wellness Complex (right).

She also brings an aloha spirit.

Israel moved to California from Hawaii, where she ran a large retirement community. The Chicago native trained as a nurse, and later went into senior care, working in the field for 25 years in Boulder, Colo., prior to her stint in Hawaii.

She says she was drawn to the Moldaw residences because of the multigenerational aspect, and for the chance to work in a Jewish environment.

“When people are engaged in a social environment like this, they automatically come out of their shells,” she says. “They engage in the world around them and become part of it. As you get older your world gets smaller, and you no longer are as interested. Moldaw will bring the world to them: World-class performances, fitness classes. It’s stimulating physically, spiritually and mentally.”

Though closing in on the end of construction, the Moldaw is still a hard-hat zone. Israel hopes to begin taking prospective residents on site tours by the end of summer, in advance of a prospective January opening.

In the meantime, she is gearing up to hire 100 people to fill myriad positions: nurses, nursing assistants, waiters, prep cooks, housekeepers, office staffers, even valet drivers.

All should be ready by the time Bee and Manny Cherkas show up with the moving van. Most of their children and grandchildren — all of whom live in the Bay Area — will likely be on hand for the housewarming.

And how did their kids feel about the couple rushing headlong into marriage?

Says Bee: “They said, ‘Why don’t you be modern and live together.’” But, interjects Manny, “I wanted to make sure the knot was securely tied.”

The Moldaw Family Residences at 899 Charleston has a preview center people can visit at 366 Cambridge Ave., Palo Alto. A free wine and cheese event is slated for 4-7 p.m. June 24. Information: (650) 321-3188, (800) 650-1192 or www.899charleston.org.

Glossary of housing options for seniors

• Retirement communities and senior apartments are synonyms for independent living. Usually these communities are restricted to those 55 and older. This environment gives residents less responsibility for maintaining a home and the means to keep an active lifestyle. Choices typically can range from fully equipped one- and two-bedroom apartments to small homes.

• Assisted living is for people who can’t live without some sort of help. They do not need medical care, but trained staff is available to help seniors with daily routines (such as laundry, housekeeping and medications), enabling residents to live as independently as possible. Assisted-living homes will usually create a plan for each resident according to individual needs, and will update it if there are changes. Other common terms: residential care, supported care, enhanced care, personal care and adult living facilities.

• Continuing-care retirement communities are often related to assisted-living programs. Levels of care are flexible, and residents can live with more or less independence, as their health dictates.

• Nursing homes offer care 24 hours a day to those who can no longer live on their own, offering trained staff, including nurses and sometimes doctors. Everything is taken care of for the resident, including meals, housekeeping, medical attention, bathing and recreational activities. — creators news service

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.