Striving in Place
Senior LivingCommunity

Striving in Place

Jewish residents in senior living facilities talk about COVID-19 confinement.

Aviva and Mort Waitzman are not fond of eating in isolation.
Aviva and Mort Waitzman are not fond of eating in isolation.

Let’s meet some Jewish men and women who live in two of Atlanta’s senior living communities, Holbrook Decatur in the Toco Hills area, and Renaissance on Peachtree in Buckhead. Their reactions to challenging social restrictions reveal admirable candor, equanimity and resilience.

Holocaust survivor Lucy Carson is a model of resilience. She lives at Holbrook. “I don’t drive much, so I moved close to my shul and the Beth Jacob community. My son lives out of town and visited often, but this coronavirus affects my attending synagogue services and simultaneously prevents my son from visiting me in person. Instead, we light candles and make Zoom Kiddush together. I used to see friends and share Shabbat dinners, but not now,” she said.

“If we leave the premises, other than for essential doctor visits on a Holbrook vehicle, we must quarantine ourselves for two weeks. We walk in the courtyard or building perimeter, but with masks and distancing.” An upbeat, outgoing “regular” at the Mason Mill Recreation Center, Carson now exercises remotely. She philosophically shares her life motto: “If I can’t change a situation, I will adapt to it.”

Lucy Carson applies her survivor mantra to the current confinement parameters.

Drs. Cynthia Cohen and Gerald Shulman chose Holbrook for its security and comfort along with very few restrictions. “But, these days, we must remain in our apartment for all three delivered meals, and no one has visitors. We meet other residents outside, on site. Deliveries are dropped at the front door, sanitized, and brought to us,” Gerald explained, as Cynthia sits nearby immersed in her Zoom Duolingo Spanish class.

“I study remotely with a Hebrew tutor from the language institute in Athens, Greece, and I’m reading a book in Hebrew. We participate in Zoom OLLI [Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Emory University] classes and programs from the DeKalb Senior Center. We’re quite busy, and I would say that we’re not suffering at all.”

Norma Marx at the Renaissance moved to Atlanta to be near her daughter, who took her to doctor visits. Now Renaissance vehicles transport her to essential appointments, but the hairdresser is not one of them. “When I look in the mirror, I scream!” she joked.

Norma Marx was a volunteer police officer in Israel and wrote a book about her experiences.

When Marx and her late husband Hans lived in Israel, she was a volunteer police officer, steadily rising through the ranks. She wrote a book about her experiences, “Stories of Jerusalem, Israel and Other Loves.” Using her literary skills, Marx led a writing group at the Renaissance, eventually becoming the editor of the Renaissance Journal.

With in-person gatherings on hiatus, life changed, she said. “People’s joie de vivre is diminished and fewer residents have the desire to write,” she noted. “The current journal is slimmer and covers two months, not one.

“It’s easy to get lazy. My laundry is picked up and delivered at my door. I used to prepare some of my food; not now. I sometimes see people while walking in the hallway for exercise, but I miss interaction at dinner and entertainment in the lobby. Most of all, I miss my autonomy.”

Aviva and Mort Waitzman, who moved to the Renaissance to live near the families of their daughter and grandson, now wave to their loved ones from their fifth-floor balcony. The Waitzmans gave up driving, but the Renaissance does not currently offer transportation for errands or outings, and residents may not leave in private vehicles. Other restrictions include elevator occupancy limits and no podiatrist or physical therapist visits. The Waitzmans appreciate selecting meals from a menu, but are not fond of “eating in isolation.”

Renaissance COVID-19 testing included temperature checks and nose swabs by the U.S. National Guard, and forehead temperatures are taken daily. The Waitzmans exercise in their apartment and walk in the hallway, wearing masks.

They keep up with current events and enjoy Zoom programs, yet they are concerned about other residents who don’t have Zoom or access to other liberating technology.

The Waitzmans joined Congregation B’nai Torah to be with family; now they attend virtual services and receive a Friday morning Zoom program from The Bremen Museum. Aviva summarizes, “We’re occupied, and doing our best.”

Renaissance resident Ralph Sacks is 102 years old. He is a symphony and arts lover, whose appetite for camaraderie and cultural excursions cannot be satisfied under the current regulations. He regularly took part in Rabbi Ronald Bluming’s Friday night services, which were held at the Renaissance. Now he participates remotely. Sacks wryly assesses the solitary dining situation and quality of delivered meals as “adequate.”

Yet, he figured out how to maintain his vitality. “I read quite a bit and listen to classical music all day, and my virtual assistant Alexa supplies me with Beethoven whenever I like!” He remains diligent about completing 90 to 100 full-body pushups every day. “As long as I have my lifelong sustenance of music and pushups, I’m fine!”

As national and local constraints ease, the residents the AJT interviewed voiced appreciation and approval of their facility’s strict precautions. And, in spite of the stress of imposed isolation, they say they respectfully comply with restrictions and share a single sentiment that they can’t wait for life to get back to the way it was when they moved in.

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