Supplement to The Jewish News
t was 1905. Theodore Roosevelt was
president of the United States. The
population of Detroit was 320,000, which
included 6,000 Jews, many of them recent
immigrants from Europe.
In 1931, the Jewish Old Folks Home affiliated with the
Jewish Welfare Federation, which had been organized in
1923. Federation leaders agreed that a new Home was
desperately needed, but its leaders were unable to help
secure the necessary funds until the mid-1930s.
Centralized Jewish communal organizations did not yet
exist. Every synagogue had its own "chevras," societies
devoted to performing such charitable acts as clothing
and feeding the poor, providing for orphans and widows
and seeing that every Jew was accorded a proper ritual
All Jewish community groups in Detroit, many of which
had failed to support Federation's Allied Jewish
Campaign in the past, were invited to a conference in
January, 1935, to discuss a unified fund-raising drive for
the Home. A Committee of 21 was formed to coordinate
Beth Jacob Synagogue on Hastings Street was no
exception. The congregation established a Chevra
Kadisha in 1905 and called it Anshe Chesed Shel Emeth
(Men of Sincere Kindness).
At the same time, Henry Lurie of the New York-based
Council of Jewish Federations was surveying the
conditions of Detroit's aged population.
The society's members knew that an elderly man,
apparently homeless, had taken to sleeping in the
synagogue. Focusing their attention on the Jewish
community's lack of facilities for old people, the society
began to provide lodging and meals for the homeless
On June 10, 1907, the members of Anshe Chesed Shel
Emeth, with $69 in their treasury, incorporated the
Jewish Old Folks Home. Jacob Levin, a devout orthodox
Jew, directed the establishment of the Home and the
raising of funds.
His findings, which indicated that Detroit was lagging
behind other Jewish communities in providing for the
aged, disabled and chronically ill, underscored the need
for a new Home.
When $155,000 from the 1935 and 1936 Allied Jewish
Campaigns was earmarked for the Home's building fund,
plans for a new facility progressed rapidly. It was to be
not only a new building, but a new agency.
"The young people, the children of these elderly
immigrants, were becoming Americanized, and many
were no longer observing the religious laws," says Doris
Greenberg, Jacob Levin's daughter. "Many of the elderly
were unwilling to live with their children. There was a
need for a facility that maintained the Jewish dietary
Located in the midst of the Jewish community, the
Home had none of the stigma of an alms-house.
Residents came and went at will, and entertained family
and friends there.
The Home became popular among elderly orthodox Jews
— so popular that it could not accommodate all who
needed its services. Soon after the Home opened, a
perennial problem made its first appearance: a waiting
In response to the growing need, a larger building, at
Brush and Edmund, was purchased in 1915. The new
Home had a synagogue on the first floor, where services
were held three times daily, and a library. It also had a
waiting list. In 1921, an adjacent house was purchased,
and a roof was built to connect the two buildings. The
enlarged facility accommodated 53 persons. But the
waiting list remained.
Plans were being made for a new, larger Home when the
Depression struck. Income from dues, contributions and
families of residents dwindled; operating expenses
mounted. The plans for a new building were shelved as
even the funds necessary to maintain the current facility
became hard to find.
When he came to the Home, Sonnenblick recalled, he
was struck by the many idle residents. The Auxiliary was
doing all it could to develop resident activities, but the
only professional devoted to residents' social needs was a
part-time recreational therapist "borrowed" from the
Jewish Community Center. Weekly movies and
synagogue services were the only steady "entertainment."
Sonnenblick, under mandate from the Board of
Directors, began a complete reorganization. He separated
the senile and chronically ill, housing them in the former
children's home while the well aged remained in the
main building. Medical services were improved.
But Sonnenblick's major contribution was programming
activities which stressed the importance of companionship
and the development of a family-like atmosphere.
He instituted birthday parties, a resident newspaper,
choral groups and literature clubs, and entertainment by
visiting artists and by residents. A resident council was
organized, to provide program suggestions and voice
concerns and complaints.
Sonnenblick also established the Home's sheltered
workshop, where residents and day care participants
could perform simple tasks, earning a small wage for
doing useful work.
Levin's dedication to the new home for the aged
generated support from individuals and organizations,
and before 1907 ended, he had raised $10,000 for the
purchase of a large house at Brush and Winder, close to
where Eastern Market stands today.
Collections at funerals, membership dues, raffles, an
annual ball and memorial contributions also helped to
sustain the Home in the early years.
Sonnenblick was hired as executive director, replacing
Otto Hirsch who retired in March, 1937.
The hobby shop became the center for occupational
therapy. Residents produced children's gifts, household
items, metal and leather goods and ceramics and offered
them for sale to the public. A store where residents
could purchase sundries was opened and soon became, in
Sonnenblick's .words, "a center for the three R's —
reunion, rumor and romance."
Levin realized that a home was needed not only for the
poor, but for the elderly who, because of failing health,
could no longer maintain their own homes.
Funds to run the Home came from a variety of sources.
Families who could afford to support their parents did
so. Some residents turned their life savings over to the
Home, with the understanding that they would be taken
care of for the rest of their lives.
During the 1940s, the character of the Jewish Home for
Aged changed markedly. If one person could take credit,
it would be Ira Sonnenblick.
Life at the Home often meant a return to productivity.
Residents who earlier had said they were only waiting to
die took renewed interest in life.
The Edmund Street Residetice
In April, 1936, the new Jewish Home for Aged was
incorporated; the Anshe Chesed Shel Emeth and the
Jewish Old Folks Home passed into history. One of the
first actions of the new corporation's board was the
purchase of 415 acres on the west side of Petosky,
adjacent to the Jewish Children's Home on Detroit's
The Jewish Home for Aged at 11501 Petosky was
completed in May, 1937. It was a modern building
surrounded by beautiful lawns. It had 110 beds for
residents, sunrooms and lounges, two kitchens, a
synagogue donated by the Allen family in memory of
Joseph Allen, and the David W. Simons Memorial
Hospital Wing for caring for the chronically ill.
Forty-eight persons moved from Edmund to Petosky, but
within months, the Home was filled to capacity.
In later years, significant alterations and expansions were
undertaken. These included the building of the Frieda G.
LeVine Memorial Infirmary and the renovation of the
adjacent building, formerly the Jewish Children's Home.
The building was renamed the Sidney Allen Memorial in
tribute to the man who had spearheaded the building
program. These improvements enabled the Home to
increase its population to 320.
The Home's professional staff grew, too. In addition to
nurses, the staff included a physical therapist, laboratory
technician, dietitian, occupational therapists, social
workers and a workshop supervisor.
As the aged population's medical needs increased, the
Home needed more sophisticated infirmary services. A
new facility for the ambulatory was also needed.
With the Jewish population of Detroit moving towards
the northwest, the decision was made to build a new
Home, for ambulatory residents, on an eight-acre site at
Seven Mile and Sunderland; the Petosky building would
be used for infirmary patients.
Ground-breaking for the building that became Borman
Hall took place on May 24, 1964. It was named in
honor of Al and Tom Borman, who donated a
considerable sum to the project.
Borman Hall was designed to be bright and airy, with as
little institutional flavor as possible. The building plan
included medical and occupational therapy facilities, a
dining room, beauty shop, gift shop, hobby shop,
sheltered workshop, synagogue and assembly hall. The
spacious lobby became a popular gathering place for
residents and guests.
Borman Hall also includes the Edward and Freda
Fleischman Pavilion, an area specially designed for
In 1971, with the Jewish community moving farther and
farther out to the suburbs, the Petosky building was
closed. An existing nursing home on Lahser in Southfield
was purchased and renamed Prentis Manor in
recognition of a gift from the Prentis family.