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Community

Joburg faces a dearth of kosher upmarket aged homes

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Johannesburg, which has the largest number of Jewish elderly residents in the country, has no kosher, privately-run Jewish retirement homes, creating a definite need.

There are two kosher aged homes expertly and communally-run by the Chevrah Kadisha which successfully cater to the needs of the aged, namely Sandringham Gardens and Golden Acres Apartments. However, many seniors who find themselves looking for kosher, privately-run retirement accommodation, with that “extra little something” are sadly disappointed when their search yields no results.

The city is dotted with some superb private facilities, from mid to upmarket, but none of them offer kosher dining or that haimish, home-from-home Jewish experience. With the result that some seniors lose out on the kosher dining experience in their later years. A retirement home similar to the much loved, communally-run, Jewish Accommodation for Fellow Aged (Jaffa) in Pretoria is sadly lacking in Johannesburg, say many in the field of caring for the aged.

The recent announcement of the closure of the Chev’s Our Parents Home (OPH) in Orchards has opened a gaping hole in this area for seniors looking for kosher but privately-run, modern and stylish, yet affordable, community living.

“One of the biggest challenges facing seniors is finding affordable retirement accommodation which is in close proximity to their families,” said Rabbi Shaun Wingrin of SOS for the Aged (SOSA).

SOSA is a Jewish organisation assisting over 60s in the community primarily living in multi-denominational (private) retirement homes across Johannesburg since 2012.

“I’m often asked to suggest a private, kosher facility to retire to. Sadly, I tell them none exist!”

“The closest offering we had was OPH, which isn’t private. It was well known that it was turned into a full fee-paying communal facility some years back, and the non-full fee-paying residents were generally transferred to Sandringham Gardens.”

Rabbi Ari Kievman, the director of Chabad Seniors, agrees that there’s a need.

“Absolutely, there’s a definite need in the community for a fully kosher, upscale, private retirement facility in Johannesburg. It’s about time this happened,” he said.

“I work with seniors every day, and I’m hearing this. Every day, we provide a kosher meal for seniors at Chabad House in Savoy. They come here to listen to a shiur and enjoy a delicious, fresh lunch all free of charge. We also provide kosher food parcels every Shabbos for more than 100 seniors in a project which began during COVID-19.”

He said he was working with some facilities to help them transition to being kosher because of this growing need.

“I’m working with Willowbrook in Sandton, and there are others considering this in the near future,” he said.

The question is why private homes haven’t gone down this road before.

According to Rabbi Wingrin, private facilities factor food into their running costs, and many of these homes are pricy to begin with.

He believes OPH is the ideal location for a future, privately-run establishment nestled in a leafy suburb and relatively close to friends and family.

“There are no privately-run homes offering residents a fully kosher board option. OPH has the correctly fitted out kitchens and is close to the heart of the Jewish community,” he said.

“It remains a wonderful, communal piece of real estate set in a relatively quiet area with a number of very functional facilities on the site, including wonderful gardens, a kosher kitchen, shul, and much more.

“It lends itself perfectly to a private retirement home, possibly rented and run by a company already in the private retirement hospitality industry. This offers a solution for the growing number of middle income over 60s looking for private retirement accommodation that offers a kosher option.”

Its location is favourable to about 40% of the Jewish community who live outside of the shtetl area, based on analysis of statistical data SOSA did some years back, Wingrin said.

SOSA reaches out to about six multi-denominational private facilities which have Jewish residents. “With foresight, our community can tap into this popular market by renting out this site to an established and successful developer in the private retirement business on a long-term basis, with the proviso that a fully kosher option be made available. The rental income would cover the cost of maintaining the site and also provide income for the running costs of our charitable facilities. This way, the community retains ownership of this beautiful site to cater for current and future needs.”

The Chevrah Kadisha is first and foremost focused on the immediate needs of the existing residents of OPH, who are being taken care of during this transition period. It’s understood that the potential commercial aspects of the property will be addressed at a later stage.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman, who served the Sydenham Highlands North Hebrew Congregation for many years, said he had often been approached by congregants seeking kosher retirement accommodation.

“I’ve definitely had many people who would have preferred a private place that was kosher,” he said.

Asked what many opted for and what was available to them after a lifetime of being kosher, he said, “Unfortunately many have stopped being kosher. So sad.”

One Sandton woman who preferred to remain anonymous said there was a serious need in the community for a small, private kosher-care facility.

“When I was looking for my mom, who has kept kosher most of her life, this wasn’t available. In the end, we chose care over kosher, and she’s in a small, intimate, private home where she has full-time care.

“Ideally, we would have preferred a kosher place for her but we didn’t have the choice as we felt she was more suited to a smaller, less-institutionalised residence. Golden Acres is fabulous, but it’s independent living and requires your own caregivers, which becomes expensive especially if you still have to do your own shopping and cooking.”

Many Jewish elderly residents have opted for private retirement homes over the offerings of the Chev for myriad reasons, including some resistance to the required hefty, non-refundable lump sum needed to secure an apartment, because some want to be able to leave an inheritance. The Chev has added a rental option for this reason. A private retirement approach includes a life-rights option, which can be sold after death. There is the belief that the quality of food and dining experience overall is superior at a private facility because it’s not reliant on communal funds. Also, modern communal dining facilities are attractive, especially for seniors who are visited by their families from overseas. Many of these visitors, who are kosher, might be able to stay for a Shabbos or yom tov meal if the place was kosher, said Rabbi Wingrin.

“The Chev has incredible experience running an excellent charitable old-aged home, and our community is hugely blessed. Some people prefer a private option, and I believe the private retirement options should be left to experts in the hospitality industry,” he said.

“Hundreds of Jewish people have chosen to live at other private retirement homes, some just up the road like Elphin Lodge or a suburb or two away like Randjeslaagte. Sadly, it’s logistically near impossible to provide kosher meals three times a day at the various non-kosher facilities. I’m not sure there’s a caterer who could do this and where would the food be heated up and stored?” he asked.

“For most of these people, this is their “last stop”, and choosing to go kosher at this stage of their lives is the correct thing to do,” he said, adding that he was hopeful that potential investors and developers would heed the call.

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