Kivel continues care

Sherrill Moore visits a tree she donated about six months ago at Kivel Campus of Care's assisted-living facility.

Sherrill Moore visits a tree she donated about six months ago at Kivel Campus of Care’s assisted-living facility.

After noticing an empty spot in the yard outside Kivel Campus of Care’s dining area, Kivel resident Sherrill Moore decided the area needed a tree. So she donated a Chinese Pistache sapling. “To me, a tree is life,” she said, and she looks at it every day.

When the campus’ care center, a skilled nursing facility, closed in April 2008, the atmosphere at Kivel felt rather somber. But today, the residents living in the assisted- and independent-living apartments, and the staff, are optimistic about the institution’s future. And, as the new tree flourishes, they are anticipating Kivel’s continued growth.

One example is a grant that Kivel recently received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), through the Assisted Housing Green Retrofit Program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. An engineer recently evaluated the site, and Kivel expects to receive recommendations within 60 days.

Expected renovations of the building housing the independent apartments, which is more than 25 years old, will include making it more energy-efficient and updating the heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as modernizing its appearance, said Ira Shulman, Kivel CEO for the past nine years and, as of last month, also its board president. In addition, Kivel will explore installing solar panels to reduce costs, he said.

After the engineer’s proposed changes are approved, Kivel has one year to complete the project, which he anticipates will cost $1.5 million to $2 million.

Kivel recently applied for another HUD grant, to develop a memory-care unit for patients with early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in its assisted-living center. The plan would involve converting 15 independent apartments into a memory-care unit, which would have its own dining room and activity room. Currently, Kivel has 30 assisted-living apartments and 220 independent-living apartments, Shulman said.

“It’s home,” said Lillian Mayer, who has lived at the Phoenix facility for nearly two years and who worked as a registered nurse at Kivel’s nursing home in 1973.

“You can never be bored here,” Moore added, naming activities she enjoys: current events, computers, meetings. She also leads a quilting program and hopes to quilt blankets for local firefighters to give to children they assist, a project she was active with in Miami.

Gertrude Bessellman, who moved to Kivel from New York three years ago to be close to her daughter who now lives in Sun City West, enjoys arts and crafts and the book club. One reason she chose Kivel is that it operates under Jewish community auspices, offering kosher food and Jewish programming. She attends both Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, led each week by Rabbi Martin Scharf.

Kivel residents also can play on the Nintendo Wii; Crystal Tang, director of therapeutic recreation, describes the Wii bowling league, whose players wear matching shirts.

As Jewish News talked with the three Kivel residents, Moore signed onto the Internet at a nearby computer to show a photo of her new grandson posted on Facebook. “He’s my little pumpkin,” she exclaimed proudly of the baby sleeping in his pumpkin costume.

The women appreciate other services Kivel offers: There’s an on-site eye and dental clinic, beauty parlor, mini-mart and bank (Chase Bank operates an on-site location on Wednesdays). This year, a cut in allocations from the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, of which Kivel is a constituent agency, meant Kivel lost funds for the eye and dental clinic, but the services never stopped, thanks to volunteers, donations and financial assistance from the Kivel Auxiliary, an organization that raises money to enhance the quality of life for residents.

In addition to the on-site activities, Kivel takes residents on outings, such as shopping trips and visits to restaurants and museums. These trips are funded through the Kivel Auxiliary and donations, including Arizona’s Working Poor Tax Credit.

Community members also regularly visit Kivel, which its residents enjoy. Students from Monte Vista School visit monthly, and Jess Schwartz Jewish Community Day School and Pardes Jewish Day School students and groups such as the federation’s Young Jewish Phoenix participate in programs with the seniors. Teens from the Jewish Community Foundation’s teen philanthropy program, B’nai Tzedek, threw a prom for the seniors in May, and the Israel Scouts, a singing and dancing troupe from Israel, also perform there when they visit the Valley each year.

Across the parking lot from all the activity are reminders of the challenges Kivel has faced in the past few years; it’s difficult to ignore the boarded-up buildings that once housed the Kivel Care Center. The closure was forced by a combination of increased operating costs and decreased philanthropic support, said its leaders at the time.

Ascend Health Corp. purchased the buildings, which are being rebuilt and renovated into a behavioral-health hospital.

What was once the Smith Pavilion, with a main lobby where residents would watch TV and visit with guests and greyhounds – the latter part of a pet-therapy program – is now gutted, although chandeliers still hang from the ceiling. A bench is flipped over near the entry, which still has flowers painted on its windows. This building will be torn down to make way for offices for Ascend’s behavioral-health hospital, Shulman said.

A second building, which housed the facility’s dining hall, ice cream parlor, care center and activity center, will be renovated into the new hospital.

The demolition may seem dismal, but the residents say they are excited about the changes. “It’s entertainment,” Moore said.

“The staff and the caregivers are just wonderful,” Mayer added. “I can say that with sincerity.”

Kivel’s new board is ready to “move Kivel forward,” Shulman said. Kivel plans on keeping its Phoenix location but has not abandoned plans to build an additional campus in North Scotts-dale with assisted- and independent-living facilities, which Shulman calls the “new direction in nursing homes.”

Current board members are Shulman; Gail Chase, treasurer; Richard Marmor, secretary; S.W. Petersen, past-president; Mark Searles, vice president; Debbie Waitkus, vice president; and a representative from the Kivel Auxiliary. Shulman expressed appreciation for the work of the previous board and said he is looking for additional board members. (Call 602-443-8020).

“We look forward to community input and support as we develop plans for a future Kivel,” Shulman said. “An additional location to provide an appropriate living opportunity for our Jewish seniors is a necessity, not an option.”

This article first appeared in the Nov. 20, 2009 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Kivel staff residents, deal with nursing home closing

Ira Shulman, Kivel executive director and CEO, poses with Kivel resident Bessie Wang, who affectionately calls him 'The Boss.'

Ira Shulman, Kivel executive director and CEO, poses with Kivel resident Bessie Wang, who affectionately calls him ‘The Boss.’

After a “surreal” week following the announcement that the Kivel Care Center is closing, Kivel staff members are passionately working to find new homes for residents. To date, about a dozen residents have left the Valley’s Jewish nonprofit skilled nursing facility, according to Laura Lelakowski, Kivel chief operating officer.

Patricia Hann, Gimel Unit manager, said the atmosphere at Kivel since the Feb. 25 announcement has been “quite surreal.”

“We never thought this would happen,” she said.

Hann, who began work at Kivel in December 1987, is among several employees who have been there more than 20 years.

“So many of us thought that … we’d retire with Kivel” or even stay longer. “We even had our room picked out and everything.”

Last week, employees purchased more than 200 lottery tickets, hoping a win would save the facility. “We lost, obviously, because we’re still moving.”

“Everybody is really pulling together, and so far I think it’s going quite smoothly,” Hann said. “We’re here to make sure the residents are placed in a good place.”Now that the reality is beginning to sink in, staff members are starting to look for jobs – Kivel is holding job fairs on its campus for its employees – but their main focus is working with families, case managers and social workers to find residents a new place to live.

Other facilities throughout the Valley have been “incredibly cooperative in trying to create space” for Kivel residents, according to Ira Shulman, Kivel CEO and executive director.

One facility in Sun City has offered to create a community of 26 Kivel residents, Shulman said, if Kivel can provide the staff members to support it. The only problem is the location, which would mean a long commute for many staff members.

Many residents were “stunned” when they first heard that the care center was closing, Hann said. “They’re just now thinking about what’s going on and talking about it.”

About 50 of the 150 residents attended a residential council meeting last week to ask questions and express concerns. “I think that, more than anything, has helped them accept this,” Hann said. “It’s a small community that we have here.”

Staff members are identifying unique qualities of each resident to share with the next facility, Lelakowski said. For instance, one man likes to see the Diamondbacks schedule posted on the bulletin board.

“The little things that we don’t think about, that we just do,” explained Lelakowski, who has worked at Kivel for nearly 24 years. “We want to make sure that our residents are taken care of as much as possible, so we are sending that information on.”

When Bessie Wang, a Kivel resident for four years, was asked what she likes best about Kivel, she replied, “Everything. It’s home, sweet home.”

Larry Kantor, who moved to Kivel in February from another nursing home, said he enjoys the Jewish environment, something that didn’t exist at his former residence.

“I love this place, it’s a shame they have to close it up,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another place in the city that can compare.” His son, who lives in Phoenix, is helping him look for a place to move.

The target date for the closure is the end of April, Lelakowski said. “But obviously we’ll care for every resident until the very last one leaves.”

It’s important to have a time frame, she explained, because dragging on the closure would create more stress for the residents, family and staff.

This article first appeared in the March 7, 2008 issue of  Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Former missionary reveals proselytizing practices

A group of men and women join together in the synagogue sanctuary, swaying together to vibrant music. The lights dim on this Friday night, and a woman with a cloth covering her head stands in front of two candlesticks. The congregants hold hands and sing “The Sabbath Prayer.”

The woman recites the traditional Shabbat candle lighting blessing – traditional except for an addition, in Hebrew, at the end of the blessing that translates, “In the name of Jesus Christ.”

Such occurrences characterize a messianic synagogue service, said Julius Ciss, executive director of Jews for Judaism in Toronto.

Ciss, who was involved in Messianic Judaism for five years, an experience that began at the request of a Christian girlfriend, shared an insider’s look at the world of Christian missionary groups in a lecture sponsored by The Phoenix Community Kollel Feb. 15 at Young Israel of Greater Phoenix.

Messianic synagogues, led by a “rabbi,” do whatever they can to make their Christianity look Jewish, Ciss said. Messianic synagogues have an ark with at least one Torah scroll inside, feature illustrations of dancing Chasidim and Israel on promotional materials, and often buy listings in the phone book under “synagogues.”

Although on the surface it may appear to represent Judaism, Messianic Judaism adherents actually take Christianity and “flavor it with Jewish syrup,” Ciss said.

Nevertheless, thousands of Jews are attracted to Messianic Judaism, he said. He estimates there are 350 Messianic synagogues in the United States, 100 in Israel and 100 elsewhere in the world – and that 75,000 regularly attend Messianic religious services.

Ciss said he found nine missionary organizations in Phoenix, one in Scottsdale, three in Tucson and others in Chino Valley, Glendale, Peoria and Yuma.

The forces behind the groups are often “right-wing fundamentalist born-again evangelicals,” Ciss said. He cited the Southern Baptist Convention, The Assemblies of God, The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church and independent non-denominational evangelical churches and Pentecostal groups.

According to a November 1993 issue of Newsweek magazine, 25.7 percent of Americans are Evangelical Protestants. A 1998 study by Christianity Today magazine states that 27 percent of North Americans are evangelical Christians.

Evangelical Christians’ primary motive in converting non-Christians is a passage of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, so that all who would believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” Certain Christian groups embrace this commandment and use it to try to “save” non-Christians, Ciss said.

What draws Jews to Messianic Judaism, and what can the Jewish community do to help prevent the numbers from increasing?

“Children need to grow up in homes where Judaism is taken seriously and passionately,” Ciss said. “We live in a world where our children will face many challenges to being and staying Jewish.”

One such challenge, present since the beginning of Christianity, is the Christian missionary, Ciss said. However, obstacles Jews once used to ward off the Christian message aren’t as prevalent today, and missionaries have devised new tactics.

When missionaries approached Jews in the past, they were direct about their motives, and Jews who didn’t want to discard their Jewish identity simply rejected the missionary’s pitch. This served as the first obstacle.

In response, the Hebrew-Christian movement – telling Jews they can retain their Jewish identity while believing Jesus is the messiah – uses Jewish symbols and Hebrew names and prayers, intended to help a Jew feel comfortable while practicing Christianity.

Ciss said that the second obstacle Christians formerly encountered was that Jews were educated in Torah and Talmud. Today missionaries take advantage of Jews’ general lack of knowledge of the Hebrew language, Ciss said. Christian Bibles are mistranslated from the original Hebrew, and missionaries use this mistranslation, as well as biblical passages taken out of context, to try to convince Jews that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophesy.

The third obstacle missionaries had to overcome, Ciss said, was that Jews used to better understand Jewish concepts and spirituality. Missionaries today take advantage of assimilated Jews’ lack of knowledge and also question the Jewish individual’s relationship with God.

During his lecture at Young Israel, Ciss showed a video with clips from promotional videos distributed by Christian missionary groups. The video depicted synagogue services and Jews for Jesus members proselytizing on college campuses and to the elderly. Clips included missionaries performing “Jewish gospel music” in churches and encouraging church members to “share the good news” with Jews. One missionary stated on film, “We’re capturing many Jewish hearts, bringing them into the kingdom.”

The video boasted of raising another generation of Messianic Jews, showing shots of summer camps and schools. Men and women of all ages and nationalities were shown being baptized.

The leader of one of the missionary groups in the video – Jonathan Bernis of Hear O Israel, based in Phoenix – identified himself during a question-and-answer session at Young Israel and suggested a debate. A handful of other Hebrew Christians also acknowledged their presence.

“I was very pleased that so many Hebrew Christians attended the lecture,” Ciss said. “Often, these Jewish Christians will not speak to us directly, so the opportunity to hear our message, and to be inconspicuous at the same time, gives them the opportunity to not be threatened.

“In fact, one of those in attendance said that the evening’s presentation had caused her to doubt her faith in Jesus and we are now following up with her.”

When the Jewish Christian is able to hear the Jewish response to missionaries in a non-threatening environment, Jews for Judaism sees a 70 percent success rate of Jews leaving Christianity, Ciss said.

After being approached by a missionary, “use the occasion as a catalyst to strengthen yourself, your family and your community,” advised Ciss. “Bring more Judaism into your life and into your home. Decide to help make the Jewish world less vulnerable to those who seek to prey on our souls. Be a Jew for Judaism and you won’t be a Jew for Jesus.”

For more information about Jews for Judaism, visit the Web site at

This article was first published in the March 2, 2001 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Oasis in the desert

By teaching classes and one-on-one sessions, studying Torah several hours each week, and providing role models for traditional Judaism, the seven families of the kollelim share the same goal – to bring Torah to the Valley’s Jewish community.Twelfth-century philosopher Maimonides compared words of Torah to water. If this is so, the Valley’s Jewish community is currently in no danger of drought. Earlier this year, two kollelim (centers for Jewish learning) were established in Phoenix.

Rabbi David Rebibo, spiritual leader at Beth Joseph Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Phoenix, began the effort three years ago to establish the Greater Phoenix Community Kollel.

To emphasize that it would be a “community” kollel, Rebibo extended an open invitation to the Valley’s diverse Jewish institutions to attend town hall meetings to discuss his plans. He also looked to kollelim in other American cities to find what he felt would work best for Phoenix.

He chose to work with the Torah Mitzion program, based in Israel, because of its “strong Israeli flavor,” he says.

Rebibo says the added ingredient of Israel gives the kollel an “ability to bring Israel to Phoenix and to play a role in improving and promoting the relations between Israel and Phoenix.”

The three couples in the Torah Mitzion program, including the women, have served in the Israeli army and have studied in Israel. After a two-year period, they and their families will return to Israel, and a new group will take their place.

Just blocks away in central Phoenix, The Phoenix Community Kollel was founded largely through the effort of Rabbi Chaim Silver, spiritual leader of Young Israel of Phoenix, also an Orthodox synagogue. The kollel is comprised of four couples who moved to the Valley from Israel.

Rabbi Zvi Holland says the goal of The Phoenix Community Kollel, affiliated with The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, is “to turn the community into a place of Torah.”

By offering a wide array of learning opportunities, the kollel aspires to give Phoenix’s Jews what they would get if they were living in the large Jewish communities of New York, Los Angeles or Jerusalem, Holland says.

“In a nutshell, this has always been the secret of Jewish survival,” he says. “To have the Torah means a tremendous wellspring, a vastly challenging, intellectually stimulating and useful body of knowledge. Even knowing that it exists is what has kept us going.

“Without any real Jewish identity, there won’t be Jews anymore,” he adds.

During the Holocaust, the established Torah educational structure that existed in Europe was decimated. In America, starting in the 1920s, the yeshiva infrastructure of scholarly devotion to Talmudic law slowly grew, Holland says.

“As the communities developed in the United States, (leaders) saw they needed certain things to function as Jewish communities,” such as bolstering education resources by having a group of people studying Torah together, he says.

The concept of a community kollel is that if a Jewish community lacked the resources for a center of learning, its leaders would import people to start an institute, Holland says.

“Los Angeles, 40 years ago, was no different from Phoenix. In 1960, the first real strong rabbinical presence came to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles has grown ever since then,” he says.

Today’s Los Angeles Jewish community boasts boys’ and girls’ yeshivas, kollelim, Jewish day schools and many kosher restaurants.

“Without Torah education, there’s no such thing as a vital Jewish community. And that’s what we’re here for,” Holland says. “It’s not like we’re the only … Jewish educational resource in town, but there is definitely a great need.”

“It’s very important for the Jewish community to understand what makes us Jewish and what keeps us Jewish is the commitment that we have to our Torah,” says Silver.

Rabbi Gedalia Peterseil says the purpose of the Greater Phoenix Community Kollel is to “really instill that love of Israel” and “provide some sort of bridge over the gap between the different sects of Judaism.”

To do that, members of the kollel “become as involved with the community as we can,” Peterseil says. “Definitely our goal is to spread the Torah, (which is) what really combines all four sects of Judaism. … We all have the same heritage, the same legacy – we all have the same book that is the binding book for all of us.”

The literal translation of “kollel” is “inclusive.” According to the Greater Phoenix Community Kollel’s mission statement, it is a “home away from home for every Jew.”

Classes are taught by the men and women of both kollelim at various locations, including Beth Joseph, Young Israel, Phoenix Hebrew Academy and in private homes.

The Greater Phoenix Community Kollel offers “Behind the Scenes of Mitzvot,” “The Book of Yehoshua,” “Women in the Bible,” “Conversational Hebrew” and parsha (Torah portion) discussions.

At the Phoenix Community Kollel, students can study “Basic Judaism,” “In Footsteps of Prophets,” “Practical Judaism,” “Halacha,” Hebrew and parsha.

The rabbis at The Phoenix Community Kollel hold major study sessions weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Young Israel and 1:15 -4 p.m. at Phoenix Hebrew Academy and the community is invited to attend at any time.

Members of the kollelim also teach at Hebrew High classes held at Temple Chai, a Reform synagogue in Phoenix, and through the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. (See the community calendar of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix for class times and days.)

Both kollelim also offer private sessions.

“Aside from the classes, you must do one-on-one (learning),” says Holland. “There’s really no other way to reach people.”

Peterseil says of his kollel, “We put a large emphasis on making people feel welcome to come learn as individuals.”

David Friedman, 32, of Phoenix, studies with Rabbi Dovid Goldman at The Phoenix Community Kollel.

“The opportunity to study one-on-one with a learned rabbi who takes the time to make sure I understand it personally is of tremendous value to me,” Friedman says. “I’m somewhat intimidated to speak up in certain classes, so (studying) one-on-one has really helped me get the courage to really learn things that I want to learn.”

Friedman has also taken classes at BJE and through the federation’s Young Leadership Division.

“The distinction for the kollel is I would say it’s very traditional, and it’s a little more academic; it’s more closely tied to the actual text of things,” he says.

Elizabeth Rothstein, a deputy county attorney and member of Young Israel, says she has gained spiritual fulfillment out of taking the classes.

“Being a newly religious woman, recently married, it’s helped me to connect more with being observant when I get to meet more religious people and live by their example,” she says.

Friedman says that it’s been “tremendously valuable” to him to have the opportunity to witness “four families of very traditional Orthodox upbringing and lifestyle and just to see the way they conduct themselves and to see a real example of a true Orthodox lifestyle.”

Janice Gotfried, also a kollel student, agrees.

“It helps show us on a day-to-day basis the importance of Torah learning and Torah study because these men study all day long and we see it going on. So it’s good to see as a role model … to see how people do devote (their time) to studying all day long.”

Another advantage of having the kollelim in town is “availability,” says Gotfried, a member of Young Israel.

“If I have a halachic (Jewish law) question, or if I just have a question in general, they’re always available. … I can learn at my own level and interest. … (The teachers) are eager to share their wealth of knowledge with us.”

David Steinway, a physician who has lived in the Valley for 16 years, says the kollelim “have added a whole new dimension (to Phoenix) and may be very beneficial for the future.”

“I think many times a single rabbi running a large, or even a small, congregation has a difficult time in keeping everybody happy all of the time,” he says. “We now have more rabbis … in Arizona than I can ever remember and I think it offers a good opportunity for anyone who’s wanting to learn.”
“Both serve a very important purpose,” Rebibo says. “I call upon the community to recognize the need for both kollelim. We need both. There is no doubt they are both working in the same direction, (toward) the same objective,” he says.Having two kollelim in Phoenix poses no problem, Rebibo says.

Both kollelim are funded by private donors in the community. In addition, the Greater Phoenix Community Kollel received a grant of $25,000 from the Jewish Community Foundation and The Phoenix Community Kollel received a grant from its parent organization.

Plans are underway for the creation of a board for the Greater Phoenix Community Kollel whose members will represent the diverse segments of the community, Rebibo says.

“I think if they are successful in what their goals are, both community kollelim could be supported, Gotfried says. “If they … have touched the lives in their outreach … that will not be a problem because people will appreciate and celebrate what they’ve brought to our community,” she adds.

This article first appeared in the Dec. 15, 2000 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.