Orthodox communities throughout the US are increasingly providing both physical and spiritual amenities for residents over age 55.
“The demographics of retirees cover a wide span of ages from 55 to over 95 years of age with many different needs and interests,” explains Rebbetzin Judi Steinig, Associate Director for Community Services at the Orthodox Union and Fair Coordinator.
“The baby boomers are young and energetic with goals and aspirations for their retirement as they transition from years of professional work to a relaxing lifestyle,” continues Steinig. “They may first be downsizing from big houses to smaller residences that are easier to manage. Some may look for communities near their children that have appropriate housing while others want to enjoy warm climates, and reside in areas that provide intellectual and stimulating programs, and Torah learning. Older seniors may need areas that can provide more supportive environments with kosher assisted living or nursing homes.”
Featured here are ten OU affiliated communities that address these needs for members at this stage in life.
Jack Engel, a rabbi in Delray Beach, Florida, a Modern Orthodox community with a predominantly 55 plus membership, tries not to create a distinction by directing projects limited for the elderly. Particularly at this time of year, he creates a welcoming atmosphere for all.
“We know that yomim tovim, especially Pesach, is emotionally very difficult for people who are alone or remember when they led a Seder or had family over,” says Engel. “Therefore we decided to have meals in the Shul over all Pesach. Our meals are full service with wine at every meal. We serve only the best cuts of meat, delicacies to allow the people attending to feel special. We charge or don’t charge solely upon the person’s willingness to pay and our meals are open to anyone and everyone. Although the elderly are prime targets we do have younger people attending when the need arises. Every meal is concluded by allowing all remaining food to be taken home.”
They offer this service over all the yomim tovim, but last year served over 500 people during Pesach. For the house bound he brings over an entire Passover Seder including the Seder plate.
The Renaissance home development in the Monroe community, popular for ages 55 and up, is a 10 minute walk (within the Eruv) to the Orthodox synagogue in the neighboring town of Twin Rivers in East Windsor, NJ. One Shul serves about 70 Orthodox families, plus those from Renaissance, who are equally a part of their community, walking there on Shabbos mornings and davening there during the week too. The Shul has an attached mikvah, a Daf Yomi program, a kollel, kiruv (learning) center next door with classes, such as Shabbos Parshah and halacha classes open to the entire community.
David Saxe and his wife Bella, originally from Montreal, Canada and wanted to be closer to their children in the New York-New Jersey area, moved to Renaissance, which has self-standing individual homes and is about ten years old. David was instantly sold the moment he first visited the community, which he says, “was like the Ohel of Avraham where all visitors are truly welcome.” He now enjoys all the perks of the area. “We have a clubhouse with a gym and both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. They have exercise classes for the active individuals and also bridge and mah jongg for those who desire that,” says Saxe.
Of course, it’s the Jewish aspect of life there that really attracts him. “The motto of the shul is ‘We are not only a shul we are a family.’ This is a very warm and welcoming community who are there to help if need be. We have in our area a ‘Kosher Experience’ in Shoprite where all your kosher needs are available. We are a 25 minute drive to Lakewood for all the extra things that you want and wish for.”
Andrew Samuel, Community Representative from Long Branch, NJ says it is a great community for active adults. “Many of our members began as Shabbos and summer residents,” he explains. “Several have permanently relocated here from other communities after retirement to live in apartments and condominiums on the beautiful beachfront waking up each morning to the beautiful sunrises and sounds of seagulls and the waves lapping on the beach.”
Congregation Brothers of Israel has a satellite Shul on Ocean Avenue within a short walk from most of the oceanfront buildings. The Long Branch boardwalk stretches for two miles providing opportunity for casual strolls and exercise with an ocean view. Local culture includes “Broadway-quality” theater, cultural and fitness programs at the JCC Jersey Shore, lectures and educational opportunities at Monmouth University and local Shuls, including Senior programming at Congregation Brothers of Israel. There are local kosher restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries or the excitement of New York City with just a direct train ride to Penn Station.
“Long Branch is a fabulous place to enjoy the adult years with everything one needs to live an observant life,” Samuel says.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, a state-of-the-art JCC, in addition to the general facilities and programming it provides to an active Jewish community, is also an accredited senior center, with many events, meals, get-togethers and a transportation service.
Rabbi Ezra Goldschmiedt, head of Congregation Sha’arei Torah in Cincinnati, says that for those who are looking for more comprehensive care, assisted and independent living at Cedar Village, their kosher senior service center, is another great option. “Cedar Village has beautiful facilities, programs, and medical services, together with a great community of staff and residents,” Goldschmiedt says. “The Cincinnati community, largely with the help of our incredibly generous Federation and Foundation, provides many avenues for seniors to bond, grow and enjoy life!”
Close to Philadelphia and New York, Allentown, Pennsylvania boasts big city amenities and entertainment with small town charm. The Orthodox Synagogue there maintains a large Eruv, daily Minyanim and Daf Yomi classes with approximately 150 people attending Shabbos services. There’s a Mikvah, local Orthodox Kosher Supervision (LVKC) that supervises two local supermarkets and some small eateries, a Jewish Community Center that provides numerous programs for seniors and brings big name Jewish speakers to Lehigh Valley. The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley coordinates all Jewish events among the various Jewish organizations and synagogues in the area and Jewish Family Service provides services to seniors, families and individuals in need.
“The synagogues encourage participation from members of other synagogues,” says community member Ira Robbins. “The synagogues truly work together for the best interests of the community.”
The cost of living and housing (with luxury apartments and homes available within the Eruv) is significantly lower than other comparable Orthodox Communities in New York or New Jersey.
The Lehigh Valley has some of the best medical services in the nation with two vast medical networks providing almost every type of specialist and also has numerous shopping malls, an art Museum, Symphony Orchestra and professional sports teams.
“Allentown is a great place for seniors to live because the Jewish community offers similar religious and educational opportunities larger communities offer while providing a better quality of life and great health care,” says Moshe Markowitz, MD, FAAP at LVPG Pediatrics-Laurys Station.
Susan Stein, Recruitment Specialist at Kesher Israel Congregation, is in her early 60’s, and moved two and a half years ago to Harrisburg, the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “Based on the experience of two families we know, we completely believed that Harrisburg would provide a fulfilled Jewish experience for us,” Stein explains. “My husband accepted a position without us even trying out a Shabbos here. And we did not make a mistake. Our life here has been very pleasant. The congregation is very welcoming, and in no time at all a newcomer is totally at home here.”
The city has a lot to offer: Moderately priced housing, temperate climate, a top tier medical network (Penn State Hershey and Johns Hopkins Medical Centers among others) and medical system that attends to the needs of the Medicare population (their state has the 5th largest Medicare population in the US.) It’s also a mid-point between the east coast, the mid-Atlantic states and the closer edges of the Midwest, allowing visits to adult children spread out between these various locations. When the grand kids visit Hershey Park and Chocolate World are close by (for the history buff there’s Civil War interests at multiple museums and nearby historical sites.) Large outlet malls are in Hershey and Lancaster (and Amish Town); classical music maestro Stuart Malina is a member of Harrisburg’s Jewish community; outdoor beauty include the nearby Susquehanna River and Appalachian Trail.
“Whatever your skill in life is, you will be invited and welcome to share it in our congregation and Jewish community,” Stein says. “Help with our property, our holiday and special programming, synagogue operations, chevrah kadaisha, learning, Jewish community boards, community theater, Jewish chorale, website and marketing, recruitment. Harrisburg features an uncommonly cohesive Jewish community. We all regularly ‘cross the lines’ when we attend other congregations’ book clubs, cultural programs, Israel events and speakers. When you make friends at another congregation, you can walk to the simcha at their shul on Shabbos and know that the kiddush or luncheon will be kosher.”
Hailing from other areas, many found their home at Kesher Israel, Harrisburg’s Orthodox congregation. The Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg is a kosher continuum of care community (independent living, assisted living and long term care) with an array of Jewish programming and Jewish chaplains. Younger retirees may wish to keep elderly parents nearby in a setting like this. They also have kosher Jewish group homes for any family that is seeking such services for a disabled, adult child.
Over in Boynton Beach, FL, Rabbi Avi Billet of Anshei Chesed Congregation, says, “Our community combines affordable housing and an education program designed to cater to our demographic of ‘snowbirds,’ semi-retired and retired, which include guest lectures from national organizations (AIPAC, ADL, OU), special series on varied Torah and general subjects, monthly Jewish-themed movie night, and regular daily and weekly classes.”
Community members also seek out their own enrichment beyond the community, whether through the array of cultural opportunities (like theater, movies, golf), continued education in local colleges, or the eclectic programming of synagogues in neighboring towns.
“It’s a great place for people looking to live life to the max in a real community not at all designed as a retirement village,” says Billet.
In Boca Raton, FL, with a plethora of restaurants and kosher shopping destinations, congregants over age 55 have the conveniences of more established communities. Eric Pinkis, Executive Director at The Boca Jewish Center, describes it as “a warm, welcoming, diverse, and engaging Modern Orthodox Synagogue that is truly one of a kind, uniquely uncompromising in its focus on service and excellence to our members.”
Under the guidance of Rabbi Yaakov Gibber, the Synagogue has become vibrant and strong, growing exponentially both in size and stature. Congregants 55+ have many options in and around Boca Jewish Center. The Shul offers weekly classes for all levels, daily davening and a robust schedule of events, including visiting scholars and partnership weekends with US and Israel based organizations.
“Our congregants are active with volunteerism within the Shul and throughout our Community, including the Jewish Federation, Eruv, Mikvah, Chevra Kadisha and Shul Events,” says Pinkis. “What makes Boca Jewish Center even more special is that each and every Jew is treated as family regardless of their level of religiosity or Orthodox observance.”
The Boca Jewish Center is a warm, welcoming, diverse, and engaging Modern Orthodox Synagogue that is truly one of a kind, uniquely uncompromising in its focus on service and excellence to our members. Under the guidance of Rabbi Yaakov Gibber, our Synagogue has become vibrant and strong, growing exponentially both in size and stature.
Congregants 55+ have many options in and around Boca Jewish Center. The Shul offers weekly classes for all levels, daily davening and a robust schedule of Shul and Community events including visiting scholars and partnership weekends with US and Israel based organizations. Our congregants are active with volunteerism within the Shul and throughout our Community including the Jewish Federation, Eruv, Mikvah, Chevra Kadisha and Shul Events.
With a plethora or restaurants and kosher shopping destinations, Congregants 55+ truly have the conveniences of more established communities. What makes Boca Jewish Center even more special is that each and every Jew is treated as family regardless of their level of religiosity or Orthodox observance.
Mindy Wajcman of Overland Park, KS, says she enjoys living in a city where “everything is convenient.” This includes access to all of the shopping and culture found in a big city – without the traffic and expenses.
“Our Modern Orthodox Shul community has participation by every level of observance – both to the right and left of centrist Orthodoxy,” Wajcman says. “Every amenity required for an Orthodox lifestyle is available and because housing is reasonably priced and wide ranged within the Eruv, it is possible for our grown children and grandchildren to all live near us.”
“There are so many advantages I feel of our community as we are now reaching the stage of life — where our peers are enjoying the benefit of a very easy lifestyle,” Wajcman adds.
Rabbi Avraham Scheinberg, Associate Rabbi of Rodfei Sholom, the Orthodox Synagogue in San Antonio, Texas, with a membership of over three hundred families, says it is a great place to retire. His reasons include a low cost of living, warm climate, nationally recognized medical center within a fifteen minutes drive, great culture and outdoor spaces and great care and support for armed forces retirees.
“It has also been voted one of the friendliest cities in America and has plenty of the things to do when the kids and grandkids visit,” Scheinberg says.
San Antonio is also conveniently a ten minute drive from the airport, has five shopping malls within fifteen minutes and has very little traffic.
“There’s a great grocery store that delivers, and the JCC is a mile away and offers tens of classes daily,” Scheinberg says. “There is a great sense of community and family within the Shul. It is made up of families of all ages, observance, backgrounds, and origins. There is a daily minyan, daf yomi, Tehillim groups, classes, and plenty of social events. Come for a visit and experience the Alamo City yourselves!”
With so many cities to choose from with rich Jewish and cultural offerings, the challenge may no longer be finding the right place to accommodate one’s growing needs, but rather having to narrow down the options.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.