Cityfront: Coming of age

Cityfront Coming of age

nofei 248.88 (photo credit: )
nofei 248.88
(photo credit: )
'Forsake me not in my old age" - the prayer recited several times during the Yom Kippur services - used to have much more significance than it does now. An old people's home was often a cheerless place with little human warmth, and certainly not the kind of environment in which any senior citizen would choose to spend his twilight years. Not anymore. Today, retirement homes and villages often look like regular residential complexes, sometimes with the added luxury of a swimming pool, a fitness center, a mini market and a beauty parlor. Some of the facilities for retirees are built on top of or adjacent to shopping malls so residents can continue to be part of mainstream society and don't feel isolated. Others are conveniently close to several bus routes, enabling residents to get to different parts of the city and beyond without having to resort to taxis or having to rely on favors. Very few homes for senior citizens are entirely autonomous. One of the exceptions - and possibly one of the pioneers - is Nofei Yerushalayim, which is an extension of the Shalom Hotel and celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this month. Although it is not the first apartment-style sheltered living project in Jerusalem, it is the first in Jerusalem in which the residents and not an external executive committee run the show. The project was initially affiliated with Nofim, the pioneer sheltered living facility initiated by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. Veteran public servant Tamar Eshel, 89, one of the founders of Nofei Yerushalayim and one of its first residents, moving there in 1989, recalls that the people running Nofim were in charge of admissions to Nofei Yerushalayim and were also involved with managing the project. "Admission of new residents was slow, and those who did come kept finding fault with the way things were managed, until a group of us finally decided it was time to become autonomous," she says. The straw that broke the camel's back was the fact that Nofei Yerushalayim was at odds with Nofim over nursing home services. Nofim was equipped with a nursing home and was staunchly opposed to Nofei Yerushalayim's having one as well, Eshel recalls. After that, a committee of three was formed. It included former kibbutznik Pino Ginsberg, who had been sent to Berlin in 1939 as a Hehalutz and Mossad emissary to rescue Jews and was subsequently involved in Aliya Bet (the clandestine immigration of Jewish refugees to Israel during and after the Holocaust); lawyer Eliahu Lankin, who had been the commander of the Altalena in 1948; and Eshel, who as a diplomat and politician had considerable management skills and experience. They worked out the conditions for breaking away from Nofim and becoming independent with their own board of directors. The committee met with Ovadya Levy, the owner of the hotel, and reached an agreement whereby residents would acquire their apartments from him in dollar value on the understanding that if they left or if they died, they or their heirs would receive a full refund equivalent to the value of the dollar at the time that Levy returned the payment. In later years, this agreement was changed when Levy's son Micha took over. The rate of exchange was galloping so rapidly that the original agreement was detrimental to his interests. Under the new arrangement, he was allowed to keep two percent of the dollar value of what he had received for the apartment. "Nofei Yerushalayim is run along similar lines to a kibbutz," says Zipora Ofri, an artist and the widow of diplomat Aharon Ofri. "There are committees for everything - control, admission, health, security, aesthetics, culture, gardening, food, ethic, synagogue." This reduces the cost of monthly maintenance fees because less hired help is required than in most other senior citizens' residential complexes. Ofri headed the committee that was in charge of Nofei Yerushalayim's 20th anniversary celebrations. She is also the ombudswoman for the residents, dealing with complaints and smoothing ruffled feathers. In her elegant apartment, some of Ofri's paintings hang on the walls. Others are displayed in the corridor outside. In fact, there is a lot of art work throughout Nofei Yerushalayim. Some of the residents were artists before they arrived and others have discovered latent talents. Art classes are among the many activities available to residents, and it is interesting to see how much joy budding artists derive from their new-found creativity. Other activities include a health club, with options such as Feldenkrais and yoga, classes in ceramics, painting, Bible, French and dancing. There is also a literature club and Shabbat meals in the cafeteria, serviced by the hotel at subsidized rates. Other facilities include a health clinic, a synagogue named in memory of Ovadya Levy, a well-equipped fitness center, a spacious lounge, a post office, a library, guest rooms for relatives of residents that are rented out very reasonably per night, and a well-stocked minimarket whose manager, Nadav Bisker, is happy to bring in any kosher product a resident requests. Bisker also has a lot of hi-tech know-how, and residents call on him when their PCs, cell phones, etc. are malfunctioning. A swimming pool is shared with residents of the Shalom Hotel, as is the beauty parlor. There is also a large 10th-floor patio where residents can enjoy the panorama of Jerusalem. Every apartment has a kitchenette, so not every resident frequents the cafeteria on a daily basis, but Friday night and Saturday are special. Several of the residents - certainly the most veteran - had a significant hand in Israel's development. They include former Foreign Ministry staff, academics and politicians. Given the background of the residents who are fairly healthy in mind and body and who have been in executive positions, it is understandable that they did not want some supervising body to tell them how to run their lives. That is why they decided 20 years ago to form themselves into a public company rather than a nonprofit organization. Rotating committees at Nofei Yerushalayim enable every resident on a one-time membership fee of NIS 2,500 to have a say in the managing of the establishment. "We're a pluralistic community of close to 200 religious and secular people who get along with each other and solve our problems together," says Ofri.