Executive director Ed Harding recently mailed a letter to residents' families announcing the change and the switch to "kosher-style" dining, meaning the use of traditional Jewish foods. While rising kosher-meat prices may have contributed to the decision, money was far from the only consideration, said Harding.
"Cost is always a factor, and in these hard economic times, cost is even more of a factor," he said. "A number of our residents, however — the majority, including the Jewish residents — are pleased with this movement. Most of them have not remained kosher their entire lives. Those families or residents who wish to remain kosher will receive the kosher meals from our supplier."
For those who want them, kosher meals will be available through an arrangement with Meal Mart, a New York vendor specializing in premade kosher foods.
The cost for these meals, according to Harding, is "a little over $10 a day. That's our retail cost, which if you were to get a kosher meal of this quality in a restaurant, you may be spending $15 for it."
Residents who keep kosher will not be charged any additional fees, explained Harding, as the expense is considered part of residents' room and board.
Many nursing homes offer frozen kosher meals for residents who request them, though the quality often varies, according to those who eat them.
Changes Then and Now
Formerly known as the Golden Slipper Health and Rehab Center, the building was sold in late 2006 to a firm specializing in long-term care. While the owners are Jewish, the facility dropped its religious identification upon the sale.
More than 200 seniors currently live at the Glendale Uptown Home, about 70 percent of whom are estimated to be Jewish.
Among those affected by the switch will be Rabbi Abraham Novitsky — or, more specifically, his wife, who is a resident at Glendale. The rabbi resides in Northeast Philadelphia.
Novitsky said that he attempted to convince the home's management to postpone the switch until after Passover, but he was unsuccessful.
The home has "done an outstanding service to the community throughout the years," said Novitsky. "But this is a Jewish institution in the city, and now there's no glatt-kosher home."
The Philadelphia area does still offer other kosher options for the Jewish elderly, including at Martins Run Senior Residential Community in Media and at the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Horsham.
Both keep kosher, but lie beyond city limits.
Moreover, these residences often carry high price tags or long waiting lists.
The Glendale Uptown Home is "an institution that's been kosher for many decades — part of its identification as a Jewish home dealt with it being kosher," said Rabbi Isaac Leizerowski, who currently oversees kashrut at the facility. "The Golden Slipper Club understood that and understood it well, and despite financial hardships, decided that that was something they would not compromise on. They understood that was a linchpin in Jewish identity."
When the Golden Slipper was sold in 2006, there was no stipulation that the home would remain kosher, though "the hope was that they were going to maintain it as [such]," said Norman Zarwin, the attorney who headed the committee for the sale.
"I don't know what percentage of the residents keep kosher," admitted Rabbi Fred Davidow, the home's on-site Jewish leader. "I know that of the 220-odd residents we have here, approximately 165 are Jewish, but I don't know the percentage of those who would be insistent that we have kosher food."
Harding said that a "handful" of residents have requested the kosher meals, amounting to only five or six so far.
Davidow is a full-time staffer at the facility, acting as chaplain and holding regular services.
In addition to a rabbi on site, Jewish-themed art adorns the lobby, and a glassed-in space houses electric yahrzeit candles.
Davidow said that despite the change in dietary policy, he still plans to hold two Passover seders and do the same programming he's done in past years.
In a similar vein, Harding said that residents who wish to keep kosher for Passover will have access to kosher meals, but for others, food will be kosher-style.
"We know that kosher-style is not an acceptable change for kosher," said Leizerowski. "They are not synonymous; people can say they'll serve kosher-style, but we know that kosher-style will not be kosher."
Novitsky, formerly Philadelphia's representative for the Orthodox Union, pointed out that, by law, food is either kosher or not.
Rachael Friedman, whose husband is a resident, said that she and her husband try to keep kosher. "Maybe I'll try to bring things from home," she said.
Yet for many, the point was different — better to lose kosher dining, they said, than to skimp on other elements of elder care.
"We like the Jewish-style, but it doesn't have to be glatt kosher," said the wife of a resident, who didn't want her name used.
"I felt that, if it's kosher, it's a better quality of food, and it's prepared different," said Elias Beil, whose wife is a resident. "It isn't up to us. The facility must be strapped for money; there's a big difference of kosher meat and nonkosher meat in price, and the company wants to make money."
Kosher or not, the bottom line was simple for Beil: "I'm glad she's being taken care of."