When Ruth Ford became a mother, she made sure that her children were blessed with the Jewish education she never had. She grew to love Judaism as she got older, learning Hebrew and prayers through adult education in her 50s and 60s.
But today - at age 93 - she's even more connected to her heritage than ever before, thanks to the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life.
"My mother has short-term memory loss, and a lot of times I don't know what she's thinking," says Ford's daughter, Lana Dishler. "But when my husband, Bernie, and I join her for Shabbat services at the Abramson Center, she chants with us and remembers all the prayers. At this stage of her life, it has really brought her closer to her religion."
Celebrating Shabbat is just one of many ways the center helps residents like Ford and their families keep Jewish traditions alive. Through its Victor and Sara Schwartz Religious Life Program, the facility also offers weekly Torah study, holiday observances, memorial services and other programs with Jewish content.
The center's director of chaplaincy services, Sheila Segal, says religious-life programs serve as a crucial anchor for many residents: "When people are going into long-term care, it can be hard for them to hold on to a sense of who they are, especially as they lose so many of the things that provided meaning in their lives. Our Jewish traditions help residents transcend change and loss, find continuity and feel more connected."
Religious life at the Abramson Center - which was opened in 2001 on a 72-acre site in Horsham Township, and was formerly known as Philadelphia Geriatric Center - is supported in part by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
"The center is a key partner in our efforts to help frail seniors age with dignity," states David Rosenberg, director of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility. "We are proud to help fund Jewish programming and kosher food for residents, and applaud Abramson for helping low-income elderly reside in a safe, Jewish environment."
The center's chaplaincy services also include pastoral care, the Bronstein Jewish Orientation Program for staff training and palliative care to provide intensive spiritual support, as well as a Jewish approach to death and dying. Under the Martha Stern Memorial Rabbinic Internship Program, two chaplaincy interns learn how to serve the aged. Funding for these various efforts is provided in part by the Leonard I. Green Foundation, the Lawrence J. and Anne Rubenstein Charitable Foundation, the Solomon and Sylvia Bronstein Charitable Fund, and the Harry Stern Foundation.
As chairman of Abramson Center's Religious Life Committee, Bernie Dishler says the facility is always in need of volunteers to escort residents, many of them in wheelchairs, to Shabbat services on Saturdays.
"Escorting residents and joining them for services is a terrific activity," he adds. "One Saturday, when a man in a wheelchair was struggling during the Amidah, we saw the parent of one of the B'nai Mitzvah kids help him up and support him. It's a wonderful experience."
To volunteer at the Abramson Center, call 215-371-1816 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .