Alexander Volovik loves talking Tolstoy at his Russian literature club, which for years had met monthly at the JCC of San Francisco. Now that the JCC has shuttered its 35-year-old émigré department, which served the local Russian-speaking community, Volovik will have to go elsewhere to talk “War and Peace.”
On June 30, the JCC closed its émigré office — officially named the Kritzer/Ross Émigré Program — and eliminated the coordinator position. The next day, S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services took over most services the JCC had been providing to Russian-speaking seniors, including transportation, holiday events, and Russian-language clubs and lectures.
The JCC also eliminated its long-running kosher lunch program, which served heavily subsidized hot meals to dozens of seniors, Jewish and non-Jewish, six days a week; diners were asked to donate only $2 per meal.
The clubs, which include Russian music and literature, will continue to meet at the JCCSF through August, the organization noted on its website. After that, it’s not yet clear where they will meet.
To Volovik, 75, a Ukrainian-born retired mechanical engineer who previously served as president of an association of Jews from the former Soviet Union, the cuts are “a terrible social mistake. Everybody is angry and sad.”
To Marci Glazer, who 17 months ago became CEO of the JCCSF, the changes are not only necessary but are in keeping with the JCC’s mission of serving an evolving community.
According to an April announcement to JCC staff, the lunch program had to go because demand for kosher meals (which were prepared off-site) had declined, and because operational mandates from San Francisco, which partnered with the JCC, became “unsustainable.”
Glazer said free lunches are available to seniors at nearby locales, while the JCC serves a kosher Shabbat lunch one Friday a month; the next one is scheduled for July 28.
Some 2,200 people — not all of them Russian-speaking — avail themselves annually of JCC programs geared to seniors, according to Glazer.
According to the California Department of Social Services-Refugee Programs, since 1983 more than 15,000 refugees from the former Soviet Union settled in San Francisco. The city’s Department of Aging and Adult Services’ needs assessment tracks approximately 5,000 seniors who speak Russian as their primary language.
Glazer said handing off “the care and cultivation of the older émigré community” to JFCS is being accomplished “seamlessly.”
“The Jewish community organizational fabric is coming together,” she added.
Glazer also noted that JFCS was a natural fit because “the population is aging. More of them would benefit from the continuity of care JFCS provides. It’s a space JFCS does so well: Support older folks as they need more services.”
JFCS executive director Anita Friedman agrees.
“Consolidating the services to older adults makes sense because, as they age, they need home care, food delivery, help with transportation,” Friedman said. “We serve lunches every day at our L’Chaim [Adult Day Health Care] Center on Judah Street. We also have a home-delivered meal program and one at Rhoda Goldman Plaza.”
JFCS currently serves a little more than 1,000 seniors from the former Soviet Union, and offers the kinds of Russian-language programs formerly offered at the JCCSF, including clubs and lectures. Much of the clientele at the L’Chaim Center are Russian-speaking, and the main JFCS office on Post Street has meeting rooms ideal for social gatherings, Friedman said.
Glazer stressed that the transition of programs in the senior/émigré category is not a complete handoff. Future senior émigré events might very well be held at the JCCSF, she said, and her facility continues to offer some programs directed at Russian speakers.
“We kept our Russian émigré program aimed at families,” she said. “The Tikvah School of Music and Dance is a wonderful program involving children and grandchildren of that émigré community.”
Friedman said she understands the concerns of seniors, such as Volovik, who worry about losing valued programs and the social interaction that comes with them. She said Russian-speaking seniors would continue to get the same services they had before, and in some cases may find expanded opportunities.
“If you consolidate all services to one agency, it provides a larger menu,” Friedman said. “We have not taken anything away. They will feel good when they see that it just continues. We have dozens of Russian-speaking staff who are very knowledgeable about how to work with them.”
Glazer said her JCC remains a welcoming place for seniors. It hosts annual fairs and forums on aging-related issues, movie screenings, holiday celebrations and lectures.
And the mahjong games go on. Free drop-in games are on Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m.
In the end, Glazer is happy and excited that JFCS will take on the services that her facility has provided over the last 3½ decades.
“Sometimes you hear communal organizations don’t work together as well as they might,” she said. “This is a shining example of a way in which programs have been passed on to folks who have the expertise.”