Fear in the face of progress
OpinionGuest columnist

Fear in the face of progress

Like Charles Morris and The Jewish Home for the Aged of bygone years, Weinberg Village will become a footnote in family histories.

Drone shot of the JAA campus Image provided by the Jewish Association on Aging.
Drone shot of the JAA campus Image provided by the Jewish Association on Aging.

Pittsburgh’s Jewish Association On Aging and its past and present board members have always been an integral part of our community. With foresight and imagination, they have navigated the ever-changing roads of care for the elderly. We all owe them our deepest gratitude.

Well, maybe not all, and for sure not the 37 who now remain at Weinberg Village.

I’m here at Weinberg Village as a caregiver. I chose this profession after I retired. In my tenure, I have cared for many from this community including survivors of the Shoah.

Weinberg Village is a community, a neighborhood for the 37. The folks on our floor wave and say hello as they pass by each other’s open doors. When they go to the pop-up beauty salon on the floor, they talk of this neighborhood and the neighborhoods they’ve left behind. In the hallways, they stop and chat.

Sometimes they will stand by a closed door, listening to an account of how their neighbor was taken away by the paramedics the night before. They will bide their time before he or she comes home — or until they get the news that they will not be returning.

These are folks you have known by sight or by name all of your life. They are the parents and grandparents of your friends. This, of course, is the way of Squirrel Hill. The general degrees of separation, maybe five.

The 37 have been told they have 60 days to leave, which will be by mid-December.

They will have to find a new place to be their last place before this building goes dark. Empty, the building will drift: Imagine an old-masted sailing ship, one last voyage, untethered in the waters, beholden to nothing but the memories of those who lived and passed within its decks.

Like Charles Morris and The Jewish Home for the Aged of bygone years, Weinberg Village will become a footnote in family histories.

The 37 talk about the impending event during meals in the dining hall and in the elevator after the doors have closed —
as if their concerns should be kept only amongst themselves. They talk in small klatches on the couches and chairs sitting in the sun at the end of the hallways. Time once again chases them.

The family members I’ve spoken to are upset but resolved. It seems to them that this process is being done at hyper-speed, resulting in a sense of chaotic and impersonal urgency.

This is what some of the 37 are saying:

“We will have to make new friends?”

“Where will I go?”

“This is my home; you’re telling me I have to leave my home and I shouldn’t be upset!”

“I feel like I’m a victim.”

“I don’t trust anybody.”

“Where will they send me? Who will I be with?”

“My children can’t take me.”

And, “Why worry about the things you can’t change?”

The 37 have survived the pandemic.

Some became sick. Other friends in the hall passed. Those were frightening times — the fear that on any given day that the virus could stop at your door. They knew the odds if it did. The families could not visit. They were isolated. Through that time it was the wonderfully patient and brave women, the floor aides, who came in every day to give comfort and reassure, to throw a well-timed arm around a shoulder.

In the Chronicle’s Oct. 14 article, the JAA announced it was planning for an extensive and multi-faceted senior urban village on the site of Weinberg Village. But these two events — the closing of Weinberg Village in December and the redevelopment of this site — are not codependent in the immediate sense.

In the article, the Chronicle reported that: “The redevelopment plan is still in its conceptual stages”; “Funding has not been finalized for this project”; “Weinberg Village residents will be offered the opportunity to move into the new facility.” It is that quote that offends the dignity of the 37 and their families. The projected timetable, even if realized, does not favor them.

In my opinion, the JAA should have approached this process as resettlement, dealing with a particular and unique group of people with specific and pressing needs, both emotional and physical. Counseling should have been put into place weeks in advance.

I have no doubt this project will be developed with the same sense of empathetic clarity, for the betterment of seniors in our community, as it has always been done by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Association On Aging. But I feel strongly that if the 37 were told the “why” of what they are going to have to endure — that it is for the betterment of future generations — they then would have philosophically welcomed this sacrifice. They deserved that much.

It is in their reflection that in the best of moments we can see ourselves. PJC

Ted Goleman, having retired, became a caregiver. He works mostly within the Jewish community. He believes lives well lived should not be marginalized and histories not forgotten.

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