Missing Neuman

Anne Rich­man re­calls faces dur­ing the Neu­man Cen­ter re­union at the Ray­mond and Miri­am Klein JCC in Somer­ton. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

Judy Schwartz re­calls with fond­ness the Jew­ish Com­munity Cen­ters Dav­id G. Neu­man Seni­or Cen­ter.

Schwartz was the first dir­ect­or of the seni­or cen­ter, which opened at 6600 Bustleton Ave. (at Magee Av­en­ue) in Castor Gar­dens in 1975 and was re­named two years later. For two dec­ades earli­er, it had been known as the mul­ti­gen­er­a­tion­al Neigh­bor­hood Cen­ter.

The way Schwartz re­mem­bers it, Neu­man mixed fun with edu­ca­tion.

The cen­ter was home to the Re­tired and Seni­or Vo­lun­teer Pro­gram, Eng­lish lan­guage classes, so­cial ser­vices, health screen­ings, a cit­izen­ship course, ex­er­cise classes, an emer­gency food closet and a meal pro­gram.

Then there were the spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

Flor­ida con­gress­man Claude Pep­per, a hero to many seni­or cit­izens, held a House Com­mit­tee on Aging hear­ing at the cen­ter. There was a United States Postal Ser­vice ded­ic­a­tion of a Pep­per stamp. Max Wein­er, a loc­al seni­or icon and cru­sader for con­sumer is­sues, also vis­ited the cen­ter.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture dis­trib­uted ex­cess cheese one day, draw­ing a throng to the cen­ter.

Schwartz also re­mem­bers older folks singing Yid­dish songs and en­joy­ing listen­ing to an Itali­an guy named Dave sing Ave Maria.

“The Neu­man Cen­ter was a very, very happy part of my life,” she said. “I nev­er minded com­ing to work.”

Last week, Schwartz and al­most 100 former Neu­man Cen­ter em­ploy­ees and mem­bers gathered for a re­union at the Ray­mond and Miri­am Klein JCC, at 10100 Jam­is­on Ave., in Somer­ton.

The Neu­man Cen­ter closed in Feb­ru­ary 2004 with little fan­fare but plenty of sad­ness. Today, the build­ing houses a school.

The cen­ter’s pro­grams were moved six miles away to the Klein branch, a bust­ling fa­cil­ity that is cel­eb­rat­ing its 35th an­niversary. Ros­a­lie Al­ex­an­der had been the site dir­ect­or at Neu­man for 14 years when it closed. She de­scribed it as “the best-kept secret in the North­east,” and a warm place with a fam­ily feel­ing.

At the same time, some 2,300 people were of­fi­cial mem­bers, so the cen­ter’s good works were known to many.

High­lights of Al­ex­an­der’s ten­ure in­cluded can­did­ates for­ums that at­trac­ted the likes of Frank L. Rizzo, Ar­len Specter and Ed Rendell. Eliza­beth Dole vis­ited in 2000 when Phil­adelphia hos­ted the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion, and she served lunch to mem­bers. State Sen. Tina Tartagli­one held her an­nu­al seni­or fair at the cen­ter. And ABC news­man Aaron Brown vis­ited dur­ing a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion year to ask seni­ors about the key is­sues on their minds.

The Neu­man Cen­ter was the site of a thrift-shop fash­ion show and a wed­ding re­cep­tion for two mem­bers. A com­puter lab opened in 1999.

“There are a lot of good memor­ies from Neu­man,” said Mar­cia Gross, the long­time dir­ect­or of RS­VP, the vo­lun­teer pro­gram.

Bar­bara Shotz, pro­gram dir­ect­or at the Neu­man Cen­ter, re­mem­bers a place filled with laughter and hugs. Staffers fre­quently mingled with mem­bers.

“When we did that, all was right with the world,” said Shotz, now vice pres­id­ent for pro­grams and edu­ca­tion at the Klein JCC.

The crowd at the June 1 event ate lunch, played a “Neu­man Re­union Quizzo” game and looked at nu­mer­ous photo al­bums. One al­bum in­cluded an activ­ity log from April 10, 1987, when Pep­per vis­ited. He signed the log, “Happy to be here.”

In keep­ing with tra­di­tion, Dor­is Gor­don led all in the singing of Hatik­vah and God Bless Amer­ica.

Jack Stecki, who read a poem in hon­or of the Neu­man Cen­ter, re­called one spe­cial perk — 25 cents for un­lim­ited cof­fee.

Lil­lian Rosen, a former Neu­man mem­ber, sang songs of trib­ute to the cen­ter to the tunes of Hello Dolly! and Roll Out the Bar­rel. Her hus­band Phil has writ­ten four books about the Holo­caust and of­ten lec­tured on the sub­ject at Neu­man.

Ac­cord­ing to Lil­lian Rosen, im­mig­rants and Holo­caust sur­viv­ors es­pe­cially treas­ured their time at Neu­man.

“It was a home away from home,” she said.

In­deed, Yelena Berez­ina was one of those who left their jobs, homes and friends in the So­viet Uni­on to come to the United States.

A Kiev nat­ive, she cred­ited the Neu­man staff with as­sist­ing them in their ad­just­ment. “They helped us in our new life,” she said.

Su­z­anne Tep­per, a former pro­gram dir­ect­or at Neu­man, was glad to see that so many former mem­bers are mak­ing good use of the ser­vices at Klein.

“The love and the caring still ex­ists,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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