On June 5, 1919, Solomon J. Manne, president of the United Krakauer Charity and Aid Society, gathered the group’s members at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel to discuss forming a home for elderly Jewish men and women in need. This was long before the blanketing comfort of pensions, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social service programs for the elderly and indigent.
At the time, poor seniors were sent to almshouses for the homeless, where they were sheltered in inferior conditions with orphans, the mentally ill, incapacitated adults, and others who were considered to be social outcasts.
The Krakauer Charity, an organization of charitable Austrian Jews that helped immigrants acclimate to the United States, felt obligated to rescue Jewish seniors from these “poorhouses.” By the time Manne hosted a board meeting in his Upper West Side home on October 8, 1919, a name had been chosen, United Home for Aged Hebrews, and the group was eyeing a leafy three-acre site with a large private structure at 391 Pelham Road in New Rochelle.
By the end of 1919, the New York State Board of Charities had approved the new home for elderly Jewish men and women with Manne as its first president. In 1921, the house on Pelham Road welcomed its first residents, variously reported at six or 13, and by 1929, 51 elderly male and female residents occupied separate dormitories (married couples were provided private rooms).
Occupational therapy classes included crocheting.
“Through the benefits received by them in the Home, the general condition of the inmates improved; their spirit was quickened, and new zest was added to their lives,” according to board minutes recorded in 1929. (Board minutes and newspaper clippings consistently used the term “inmates” to describe the nursing home residents.)
A 1934 red-brick addition created room for another 50 residents, making the United Home the largest institution of its kind in Westchester, with 155 residents. In the early years, no payments were required of the indigent residents; the home’s only income came from voluntary contributions.
To qualify, residents needed to be Jewish, at least 65 years old, and able to care for themselves. The home provided food, clothing, and medical care by staff physicians and nurses. A strict Jewish diet was maintained, with meals provided at 8 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m., along with afternoon tea at 3. Men donned suits and ties, while women wore skirts or dresses; family members were urged to visit often. Occupational therapy classes encouraged knitting, crocheting, and basketmaking.
Many of the residents in the decades after World War II had survived the Holocaust and the horrors of concentration camps. The tattooed numbers on their arms were daily reminders for the staff who cared for them.
As its growth progressed, United Hebrew broke ground in 1954 on a modern $1.5 million building to replace its existing home. The T-shaped, 102-bed Gutner Pavilion featured a saw-tooth design that allowed each resident a completely private living-bedroom with double exposure. A building-wide public-address system announced stock market results at the end of each trading day.
A 1965 expansion brought a three-story wing to the Gutner Pavilion, along with air conditioning, new X-ray and laboratory rooms, and an upgraded hospital unit. Then, in the mid-1970s, United Hebrew added the four-story Kramer Pavilion, a $5.25 million skilled-nursing facility that connected to Gutner, which was also renovated, raising the total number of beds to 270.
The United Hebrew 20th-anniversary dinner.
The 1980s brought a home-care program for seniors who wanted to remain in their own homes, as well as an addition to the Pelham Road campus of the nine-story, 135-unit Soundview Apartments building for independent seniors. Also known as the Low-Savin Residence and financed by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, it was one of the first in the nation to offer affordable Section 8 housing for seniors.
Another change, in 2003, created the Willow Towers assisted-living facility, with 126 apartments, a two-story dining atrium, community rooms, and a specialized unit for residents with dementia. Three years later, construction began on the Lucile and Joseph Skalet Pavilion, a 143,000 sq. ft. nursing-and-rehabilitation center.
Over time, the organization’s name also evolved. In 1988, the name United Hebrew Geriatric Center was adopted to reflect the array of senior-care services the organization provided. In 2009, it was shortened to simply United Hebrew.
Today, United Hebrew of New Rochelle (as it is now known) is completely nondenominational, with a staff of about 800 who support 1,000 seniors on its 7.5-acre Pelham Road campus and throughout the community. A growing and aging population is also likely to impact United Hebrew’s future. The U.S. Census predicts that by 2030, one out of five people will be 65 or older, and the Stanford Center on Longevity estimates that half of the babies born in America today will live to be 100. If these statistics are any indication, United Hebrew’s growth is destined to continue.
Eons ago, Bill Cary majored in history at Duke University. These days, he writes about local history whenever he can.