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Category: Stories

George Fendel

Written by: CSP-Admin

Former Jazz Disc Jockey

Before health problems got in the way, George Fendel would sit down at a piano every few months to play the music he loves for the residents of Cedar Sinai Park. An hour of Gershwin. Or Richard Rogers. Or Duke Ellington. George’s fingers on the keyboard, decorating the tunes written by some of his favorite composers.

For ten years or so, until she died in 2006, Fendel’s mother, Gladys Fendel, lived at Rose Schnitzer Manor. Gladys was there whenever George played, proud of the son who shared his passion for jazz standards to the delight of the Cedar Sinai Park community.

Fendel is a former jazz disc jockey whose soothing voice was heard on three different Portland radio stations for 28 years until he retired in 2014. His Cedar Sinai Park shows were filled with easy patter and jazz history, too. He aimed during his radio shows to sound as though he had three or four friends in his living room, just sitting around and talking about music. It was the same with his shows at Cedar Sinai Park. An hour of the Great American Songbook punctuated with memorabilia for his audiences to peruse and discuss.

A stack of Sinatra sheet music. Playbills from a Rogers and Hart musical. Or the framed 1961 letter from Ira Gershwin written to a young Fendel. With it, Ira enclosed a photograph of the Gershwin brothers, and a cancelled check bearing George Gershwin’s signature. These treasures – permanently housed on a wall in Fendel’s Southwest Portland living room — made more than one trip to Cedar Sinai Park throughout the decades Fendel performed there.

Fendel, bespectacled and bald with a ring of white hair just below his crown, relishes the story of how, thanks to his mother, he acquired the Gershwin items. Gladys Fendel wrote to Ira Gershwin explaining how much her son admired George Gershwin, the late Jewish composer. She asked if Ira might send her son some memorabilia for his 19th birthday.

They’ve given so much to the Jewish community -I just want them to know, ‘You’re still a part of us.’

Graciously, Ira Gershwin complied, and included his Beverly Hills return address on the package that arrived at the Fendel’s Northeast Portland home. Fendel was attending the Brandeis Camp Institute in Southern California when the package arrived. He jumped in a car and drove to Ira Gershwin’s home hoping to thank his benefactor in person. Fendel was invited into Gershwin’s foyer and spoke to the lyricist for 15 minutes. Not that he can remember a word of the conversation. He was so excited he promptly forgot it.

Recently, Fendel introduced jazz guitarist Rich Walker, who is new to the Portland area, to an audience at Cedar Sinai Park. Walker played wonderfully for about ten appreciative listeners. Fendel, the producer of an occasional concert series at Classic Piano in Southeast Portland, was pleased to connect a musician with a crowd. The way he sees it, the hours he’s spent making music for Cedar Sinai Park isn’t volunteerism. Whether playing or producing, he’s just a guy doing something he enjoys for people who enjoy listening.

George Fendel, Cedar Sinai Park Volunteer, Piano Player, Jazz Aficionado

Age: 77

Wife: Laura Fendel

Children: Reyna, professional opera and Broadway singer; Mark, professional alto sax player; Aliza Zeff, a folk music devotee

Grandchildren: Jerusalem – Maya, Joe, Asher, and Benjamin Zeff ; Los Angeles –  Nili and Charlotte ZackFavorite pianist: Alan Broadbent

Other favorite pianists: Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson

Nena Baker is an author, journalist, and investigator who grew up in Portland. Her grandmother, Lena Lakefish, and her father, Bob Baker, a jazz musician himself, were residents of the home. Nena appreciates the extraordinary care the home gave to her loved ones at the end of their lives.

Rabbi Barry Cohen

Written by: CSP-Admin

Rabbi Barry Cohen

“Can I grab a chair and swing it around?” said Rabbi Barry Cohen, community chaplain, as he approached a nearly full table in Rose Schnitzer Manor’s Newmark Dining Room. With Rabbi Cohen, there’s always space at the table for one more.  He pulls out the remaining chair and joins the group over veggie omelettes, bagels and lox, fresh fruit, coffee and tea. “How’re things?” he asks. “How’s breakfast?”

Welcome to Breakfast with Rabbi Barry Cohen. Take a seat.

Originally from Memphis and now a Portland transplant from the Chicago suburbs, Rabbi Cohen was ordained a Reform rabbi in 1998, and he engaged in extra training to become a chaplain. He and his family, including 15-year-old fraternal twins, moved to Portland in August 2018.

Prior to summer 2018 the Federation had committed to creating a community chaplain position to fill the myriad of gaps that had become recognized over time, particularly for the unaffiliated. But Rabbi Cohen — officially the community chaplain of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland — has greatly expanded his original job description.

Marc Blattner, the Federation’s executive director explained, “In partnership with the Oregon Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Federation felt it was important to have a community chaplain to support the needs of non-synagogue members. Rabbi Barry Cohen has extended his efforts to reach out to Jews wherever they are, including Rose Schnitzer Manor, to bring comfort, care, and activities to seniors and others in our community.”

Rabbi Cohen’s own mother is in a Houston-based residence that he says is similar to Rose Schnitzer Manor (RSM). He said he’s aware how connected she remains to the Jewish community there and how important that is to her emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. He wanted to create a similar inroad to keep connections alive for our own at RSM. “They’ve given so much to the Jewish community,” he said of RSM’s Jewish residents. “I just want them to know, ‘You’re still a part of us.’”

They’ve given so much to the Jewish community -I just want them to know, ‘You’re still a part of us.’

So, he, Jemi Kostiner Mansfield, then Cedar Sinai Park’s director of spiritual life, and residents brainstormed how to make good on the rabbi’s desire to schmooze, yes, but also to be available for residents’ spiritual and pastoral needs. In the midst of the process, Kostiner Mansfield left to become Congregation Shaarie Torah’s executive director and Cathy Zheutlin took over where her predecessor and the chaplain left off.

Then it came to Rabbi Cohen: “Why don’t I pick a morning and use that as a way to meet residents?”

Every Tuesday (with some exceptions) the community chaplain with alert eyes, an easy smile, and a quick chuckle arrives at 9 a.m. and enters the Newmark Dining Room (if not stopped in the foyer first by an eager, non-dining resident). For roughly an hour, Rabbi Cohen makes his way from table to table, either opening up a conversation or joining in on one already in progress.

“Whenever I go on a Tuesday morning, I never know what to expect,” he said, noting a resident with whom he’d shared a number of breakfast sessions at last opened up to him about her Holocaust experience. In her 90s, she’d never disclosed the story to her own family.

Kostiner Mansfield, recently reflecting on the development of Breakfast with Rabbi Barry, believed in their parties’ vision. She said, “The residents at RSM never shy away from spirited discussions on a range of subjects.”

“I never know the direction it’ll turn,” Rabbi Cohen said of his interactions.

At a recent Breakfast, the rabbi, black kippah firmly in place, first gave his attention to a full table of diners. He then focused on a resident eating oatmeal with blueberries, solo. He said he prioritizes approaching those on their own. The rabbi asked to take a seat and started chatting up Patsy Ridler about the weather.  But she was in for loftier topics.

“I want to ask you about your course,” she said of a post-Pesach opportunity, noting her interest in learning about the prophets. There’s a lot left to learn other than just Torah,” Ridler said. She added that she looks forward to learning with the rabbi since, for example, three words in English might not reveal the entire concept of a given text in Hebrew. “That’s why going to the original text is so important,” Rabbi Cohen responded.

The rabbi asked after Ridler’s health and they talked politics a bit, too, before he politely excused himself to talk with more residents. He sidled up to the full table where he’d asked to “swing around” a chair.

“What’s new, Rabbi?” asked Dr. Phillip Reiter as the bespectacled chaplain took a seat.

The residents proceeded to talk about the recent death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, their joint disgust with the current administration, the Democratic candidates’ debate, the political stalemate in Israel, even our entire country’s judicial system. Without skipping a beat, the rabbi said to his tablemates, “One of the reasons I like coming here is I know I can have real conversations.”

Lee Berne, making her way through a tomato and spinach omelette, said she always enjoys social time over meals at RSM. “We always have great conversations, including with the rabbi,” she said. Still, the community chaplain said at a later time, “Not every moment needs to be filled with conversation; I just exist in that space.”

Rabbi Cohen said, “My concern is when members of the Jewish community feel like they’re outside looking in or — G-d forbid — abandoned by the community.” His ultimate passion is to ensure the residents believe “we’re still connected,” wherever we may be on our life journey and where we may physically reside.

“We are blessed to have him in a community of Portland’s size and recognize the vital role he plays,” the Federation’s Blattner said.

Jenn Director Knudsen is a freelance journalist and editor in Portland, Oregon, and co-owner of 2B Writing Company. She is the mother of two teen daughters who have joined her on myriad visits over the years to CSP’s facilities, where family members and dear friends have either convalesced or lived for decades, in comfort and with dignity.

Eleanore Rubinstein

Written by: CSP-Admin

Eleanore Rubinstein

Have you wondered at the secret to healthy living to 100—or even 106 or 107? Spry, diminutive, sparkly blue-eyed Eleanore Rubinstein knows. As Cedar Sinai’s oldest resident, she turned 107 on April 23rd! Yet she keeps so busy she has little time to ponder an answer. If you listen closely, though, clues drop forth like pearls on a strand.

“I don’t know why I stay well,” she remarks. “The body certainly isn’t quite what it used to be. I’m not golfing anymore, that’s for sure!” In her spare, neat apartment decorated with five generations of photos, she watches golf on TV though… along with her alternate favorite, baseball. “I love baseball, I played it as much as I could when I was young.”
Tennis also. Well past the age of 90, in fact.

And while other centenarians might despair at outliving their spouse, contemporaries and friends, not Eleanore. “There’s nobody left of my era,” she admits, her voice still steady. “They’re no longer here. For the life of me, I don’t understand it. I did nothing to deserve it. I can only say, I’ve had a lot of help.” She points up toward what could only be described as the heavens. “I’m deeply Jewish. I’m not religious, but I’m deeply Jewish. My whole life, almost entirely with no exception has been good: just good things.”

Born in New York in 1913, Eleanore’s family moved to Portland when she was seven and her father landed a job at Meier and Frank. She was an only child. “My father wanted a boy, and my mother wanted a girl. I was pretty much my father’s son! Fortunately for him, I was very physical. That was a little difficult for my mom, she was very dainty. But they never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do.”

I didn’t think I’d ever be in a place like this, but Rose Schnitzer is home. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing.

That included going to what was then named Irvington School, and graduating from Grant High. Eleanore volunteered for the Red Cross during the Second World War, and her mother feared the work might take her only child overseas. “She was so cute, my mother,” Eleanore says. Just like the biblical Ruth, “She told me, ‘you go overseas, I go overseas.’ We were very close.”

After the American Red Cross, Eleanore devoted her work outside the home to several non-profits: the PTA, Girl Scouts of America, The National Council for Jewish Women and—even past 100-years-old—Store to Door, a non-profit supplying needed goods to homebound older adults, most of whom were appreciably younger than Eleanore.

Today, Eleanore takes life slightly—and only slightly—easier. She no longer “works,” but no one would describe her life as “rest,” either. Bingo, bridge hands, jigsaw puzzles, the latest bestselling fiction, are all in reach or available at Rose Schnitzer. Prior to moving into independent living, she lived with her youngest daughter, Diane. “You have to be sensible,” she insists. “You can love someone a great deal, yet sharing a kitchen’s not always easy! It’s too much, to cook for someone else, and my kids didn’t want me to be alone. I don’t want to cause anyone problems. And at this age, my problems are my kids’ problems.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever be in a place like this,” she admits, “but Rose Schnitzer is home. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing. The staff fall over themselves to be good to me. The food is remarkable—diversified, fresh, warm. I don’t know what I expected, but they wait on me in the dining room, they bring the food to my room, they can’t do enough for me. I’m making new friends, it’s amazing,” she concludes. “I never expected to be so warmly received. After you’re here awhile, if you don’t like Rose Schnitzer, there’s something wrong with you!”

But truly, Eleanore is never alone. “There are amazing people here. Thelma Newsom—we played tennis together a million years ago. Leah Nepom, Bernice Menashe…. I’m so lucky.” And every day family—Eleanore’s children Richard, Caroline, Diane, or Sandra; her seven grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and two (with a third on the way!) great-great-grandchildren—call or visit. “My family is my greatest blessing,” she insists. “Each of them has played a vital part in my life and made me what I am today. They’re the best. It’s not just me, everyone says so!”

So, like winning letters on a Bingo card—or pearls on a strand—it’s evident what creates a life well lived past 100: A great attitude and acceptance of what is; gratitude for what befalls you, whatever it may be; consideration for those who love and worry about you; beloved and attentive family and friends; perhaps a furry companion; and a healthy bissel of faith. That’s plenty.

And after all that, Eleanore proclaims, “You won’t find me anywhere else, here I am!”

Diane Solomon is a psychiatric nurse practitioner in private practice in Portland, Oregon. She serves as adjunct faculty at OHSU, board member of the Oregon Nurses Association, health policy chairwoman of Nurse Practitioners of Oregon, and is a member of Oregon governor Kate Brown’s Behavioral Health Advisory Council. She delights in meeting CSP residents and learning about the ways in which they live active and meaningful lives.

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