JAA remains committed to Jewish values, even during times of change
OpinionGuest columnists

JAA remains committed to Jewish values, even during times of change

In making this decision, we are committed to providing quality kosher meals.

A JAA's resident's hands (Photo by Josh Franzos)
A JAA's resident's hands (Photo by Josh Franzos)

Since 1906, the Jewish Association on Aging and its predecessors have served our Jewish community by providing care that allows people to age with dignity. Recently, we announced a plan to allow for the choice of both kosher and kosher-style meals. This decision has been difficult for all of us and has been met with frustration, anger, and in some cases, true misinterpretation.

We believe our community must come together in support of the JAA, now more than ever. Only by working together can we build the JAA’s future. No matter your views, divisiveness will bring no peace to our community.

It is important to understand how this decision was reached. This process has involved research, analysis from other Jewish healthcare organizations nationwide, extensive planning by the JAA administration and board of directors, and opportunities for resident and family input.

Over the past 18 months, the JAA has worked diligently to reduce yearly operating costs by nearly $2 million. As costs continue to increase, we need to dig deeper.

An important pillar of our mission involves benevolent care, which ensures that the JAA has never — and will never — force a resident to leave because they can no longer afford to pay. This is a source of enormous pride in our community, yet comes with a current cost of nearly a quarter million dollars each year to sustain.

In addition, JAA is unique because of the quality of care provided by our staff. We intentionally maintain staffing beyond what is required, which costs several hundred thousand dollars each year. Unlike other facilities, this allows our residents to stay at Weinberg Terrace and AHAVA far longer, giving them the ability to age in place, even as their needs for care increase.

As a Jewish organization, we have invested in a 24/7 security presence, which also costs several hundred thousand dollars each year. Other than direct care, our largest expense is food, which involves serving more than 115,000 meals annually, made with fresh ingredients that are nourishing for our residents, even as food costs rise. The current cost of keeping a fully kosher program is more than $400,000 a year.

While we have increased rents modestly, this has not kept pace with the dramatic cost increases we are experiencing. Like many mission-oriented organizations, JAA has been sustained by community support. Donor support here, as well as nationally, has decreased even as costs have continued to rise dramatically. Many of our peer organizations across the country have responded to this reality with the total elimination of kosher food and in many cases, complete closure of their facilities, as they have been unable to meet the challenging headwinds that have come.

In making this decision, we are committed to providing quality kosher meals. We reviewed many alternatives, none of which met our standard of quality. Our plan ensures that all residents will continue to receive healthy, fresh meals cooked by the JAA, allowing our main campus to operate two kitchens, one of which will be a separate, fully kosher kitchen supervised by the Vaad. All kosher meals will be prepared, packaged, double-wrapped and sealed under the supervision of a mashgiach. These meals will be delivered fresh. We rejected shelf-stable or frozen “airplane-style” foods to ensure that kosher meals remain similar to what residents are served today. Our new kosher-style meal option will not include pork or shellfish.

In planning this solution, we met multiple times with the Vaad. As a community partner, we are working with them to improve our proposed solutions to their standards. We have incorporated their ideas around food preparation, storage and kitchen renovations. Also, at the Vaad’s request, we will create optional kosher-only dining areas.

As we implement this plan, JAA leadership will continue to work with the Vaad, our residents and their families to make
adjustments and refine our processes.

This decision has been difficult. It illustrates the JAA’s need for community support — in words, deeds and contributions. In addition to the vital need for financial contributions, we need our community to embrace the use of services like Sivitz Hospice and JAA Home Health, two incredible community assets that offer the kind of care — like Weinberg Terrace and AHAVA —that we are all very proud of.

JAA’s mission is to help our Jewish seniors make the most of life at every stage, and we remain committed to our Jewish values, even during challenging times of change. As a community, we value and welcome honest communication, collaboration and partnership, as we work together to build a bright future for our seniors. PJC

Louis Plung is chairman of the JAA’s board of directors. Mary Anne Foley is president and CEO of the JAA.

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