Celebrating the Edmonton’s Jewish Senior Citizen’s Centre

Cow Patti at an Edmonton Jewish Senior Citizen's event.

By Elaine Salkie

(AJNews) – It was the year 2000 and my husband Mark and I had just returned to Edmonton from a couple of years in Saskatoon when Sue Winestock said to me: “Your parents were so involved with the Centre – what about you?” My parents, Edna and Julius Davis z”l, came to join us in Edmonton in 1982 (we came from England in 1975) and they had found friendship and companionship at the Edmonton Jewish Senior Centre. In fact, my Dad served on the Board in the years immediately before the opening of the present building. Now it was my turn to give back to our community. So, Mark and I joined the Centre.

At that time the operation was much smaller than it is today. Joyce Galante was the Administrator – our only employee (except for a cleaner). The Centre was open 3 days a week, but lunch was only served on Tuesday and Thursday and all programs took place on those two days. In addition, there was, and still is, our Sunday Club which programs in Russian for senior Soviet bloc immigrants, many of whom are Holocaust survivors. Sunday Club participants enjoy a wonderful lunch, live music and interesting lectures about art and culture.

My first volunteer job was on the program committee, chaired at that time by Esther Baram z”l. I was fairly newly retired, and I was grateful to have an interest. After a while Rosemary Kitay joined Joyce in the office as Program Co-ordinator and at the same time I took over as chair of the program committee. For a short time neither of us really knew what we were doing, but we quickly learnt. It was during Rosemary’s years that, with initial assistance from Grant MacEwan, we started our annual Learning in Retirement Lecture Series.

At this time Paula Snyder was President and somewhere along the line I was asked, and agreed, to join the Board. The Board was twice as large as it is today and there was also an Executive Committee. After Paula, Ed Mickelson became President and then it was my turn. There is an Installation in the Centre’s dining room which lists the names and dates of all the Presidents – you might like to look at it when you next join us for lunch.

Over the course of the years the attitude towards volunteering has changed and consequently the availability of volunteers has gradually decreased. For many years we had a roster of volunteer drivers willing to bring members to the Centre on Tuesday or Thursday and the task of organizing this was capably overseen by Diane Markovitch. However, the volunteers themselves grew older and it was hard to replace them.

One of the jobs of the President is to attend the Edmonton Jewish Federation Board meetings. At my first Federation meeting I spoke of the need for and the cost of providing transport for our Seniors, and Federation responded by giving us a grant towards the cost of that transport. We are grateful to Federation which still continues to fund our transport program! That was our first grant … but not the last by any means.

Today, our Executive Director Svetlana Pavlenko spends much of her time applying for grant money and, for the record, writing grant applications with Svetlana is another of my volunteer activities. The best part of that is how much fun we have together.

Around this time Bella Brenman z”l, the volunteer Director of our Choir – the Goldenaires –  moved to Toronto and the choir was disbanded for the lack of a Director. Fortunately, in 2009 we found our excellent choir Director – Deanna Clee, and the Young at Heart Choir was born. Perhaps, you heard and enjoyed our choir performing at the Opening of the Jewish Film Festival 2023. Why not join our choir for fun and friendship?

Before 2010, our lunch program was run by volunteers. Hanna Pollak z”l was in charge of lunch on Tuesday with a varied menu and Dasha Zottenberg z”l was in charge of Thursday lunch which always consisted of delicious sandwiches plus, of course, soup and dessert. But they too were getting older and there came a time when neither were available and we were desperately trying to find a cook. Bozena Szopiak said … “I can do that” … and she could! What a blessed relief it was, and she managed our kitchen amazingly for the next 20 years. When Bozena retired, we were pleased to welcome Daniella Drisdell as our Chef Extraordinaire with a Mediterranean twist!

Our first ever Executive Director Svetlana Pavlenko joined us 13 years ago, just as the world changed for Edmonton Seniors’ Centres and specifically for us. The City of Edmonton, which had been giving us operating grant money annually for some years, produced their “Vision for an Age Friendly Edmonton – Action Plan.”  Suddenly we were required to be open daily – with lunch 5 days a week – office staff working 5 days a week – programming 5 days a week, and so on. Since we are closed on Friday and Shabbat, we are fortunate that we are open on Sunday with lunch for the Sunday Club.

Visualize this! A new Executive Director needing to handle the reorganization … and the increased costs. We had to transition to paid kitchen staff (thankfully with great volunteer assistants), paid winter transport program, a paid choir Director, and a paid accountant (we had been blessed to have David Levine as our volunteer accountant for many years). And of course, the building and the furnishings were all aging and needing repair and replacement.

So, in comes Svetlana and she gradually starts to enlarge the scope and variety of our operations. We still had all our traditional programs (except for Bingo) but Svetlana was busy making contacts in the outside community and inviting her new contacts to present to us. She has been with us now for 13 years and we are lucky to have her. She is an exceptionally talented young woman who constantly works to grow and expand the Centre’s operations.

She introduced “Cultural Days” where we invite other ethnic groups to the Centre to share with us their culture and history, and recipes for authentic food which are adapted and produced in our kitchen with kashrut observed. Svetlana made contact with the Edmonton Opera and, before Covid, groups went to every production at a special price. There have been many in-house musical performances of different genres, including the Opera Nuova. We have had university professors delivering courses outside of Learning in Retirement and speakers from many walks of life.  We celebrate Jewish holidays and have an annual Purim Spiel, directed by Beryl Nahornick, with a dedicated group of volunteer players. Amazingly, thanks to Svetlana, throughout the many months of Covid, our Centre continued to provide programming, exercise classes and even Learning in Retirement, via Zoom.  We also started a take-out food program at this time.

Now the Centre is delighted to welcome everybody back in-person and we have expanded the availability of our very popular and appreciated take-home food program by always having extra lunch items available for sale.

The ageing building has required a lot of attention, much of which has been accomplished through grants from the City of Edmonton. For example, all the bathrooms have been updated and the parking lot resurfaced. Money for the new roof was raised in the Jewish community by means of a fund-raising campaign: “Raise the Roof” – the brainchild of Miriam Rabinovitch z”l with President Hal Simons z”l doing graphics. Our new kitchen was funded and installed by generous donors who provided planning assistance, fixtures and installation. We have replaced furnaces, washing machines, freezers and much, much more.

I mentioned earlier how large the Board used to be. In 2015, Svetlana, Mark and I rewrote many of our bylaws including abolishing the Executive committee and reducing the size of the Board. We acknowledge with thanks how fortunate we are to have Karen Oshry as our long-term volunteer lawyer. Her advice is invaluable for the Centre.

A couple of years ago we were fortunate to have Luba Allen join us as Executive Assistant. The program committee was not renewed after Covid  and Luba is now doing an excellent job of programming for us. She is much appreciated for her warmth and energy.

I encourage you to consider what you can do for our Centre. Recently one of our University student volunteers asked some of our members why people should volunteer at the Centre. The replies were amazingly similar: “the Centre connects people”, “because you can do something good for somebody else and you make new friends”, “it gives me something productive to do, the people here are wonderful and when I come home, I just feel so good”, “everybody is so welcoming”. And above everything else volunteering can be fun! Ask the kitchen and lunch time servers.

I strongly believe that you receive more than you give when volunteering – and this has certainly proved true for me. And please don’t say, “The Centre is only for old people” – we need younger Seniors to keep us up to date. Remember membership is open to all over 55 and we need your energy! I am delighted to report that the average age of the Board is lower now than it was 5 years ago, and this is critically important for the healthy continuation of your Centre.

And so the Centre moves on. Wishing you all the best,

Elaine Salkie, Treasurer

Elaine Salkie, who has dedicated 23 years as a volunteer with the Edmonton Jewish Senior Citizen’s Centre.

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