Rabbi Mark Cooper of Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange said his father lived at the Village Apartments of the Jewish Federation for a number of years after moving from Florida, because he wanted to be near his family but still live independently.
“He was looked after in a way that we’ll never forget,” Cooper said. “It gave him community, and support for his Jewish identity.”
Cooper’s father was the kind of person the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey and the Charles Bierman Home had in mind when they established the facility in 1988, under the auspices of what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Speaking Oct. 3 at a celebration to mark the facility’s Silver Jubilee, Cooper focused on the story of Noah and the way all the creatures on his ark lived in peace. Cooper said that “the light of tolerance and compassion continues to burn brightly” at Village Apartments.
The event was held under a big white tent in the back patio of the big brown building on Vose Avenue in South Orange. It featured speeches by local political leaders and the lay and professional people in charge of the apartments. They included JCHC board of trustees president Jay Murnick, South Orange Village president Alex Torpey, NJ Assembly members Mila Jasey and John McKeon, Board of Chosen Freeholders vice president Pat Sebold, Daughters of Israel board of governors member Ray Blau, Village Apartments Tenants’ Association president Reginald Baldini, and JCHC CEO Harold Colton-Max.
Speakers recalled the opening of the 92-unit building on Nov. 1, 1988. The building offers 68 one-bedroom and studio apartments for rental by independent middle- to higher-income seniors, and an additional 24 units operated by Bierman Home, a shared apartment living program offered by Daughters of Israel.
It is one of four buildings — with a total of 470 apartments — developed and managed by the JCHC for older adults in Morris and Essex counties, all offering a Jewish environment and kosher meals.
Jasey remarked, as did other speakers, on the building’s prime location — within walking distance of stores, recreation facilities, and transportation. The residents have 24-hour security and social services available on site as well as use of laundry rooms, communal living rooms, and a library.
The goal of local government, Jasey said, is “to provide many more affordable places like Village Apartments for seniors, the disabled, and for the young people entering the work force.”
Among the residents at the celebration was Nora Skeados, who was one of the first residents. She attended with her daughter and her friend and fellow knitting club member — and avid swimmer — Mollie Weill (aged “90-something”), who has lived there for six years.
Skeados was happy to have found affordable accommodation near her daughter.
Skeados, 93, is from Greece and still speaks English with difficulty, but she said the kindness of the residents who gradually filled the building, and the staff and service providers have made it a very happy home for her.
While most of the residents are Jewish, Skeados is not — but she has gladly participated in the Friday afternoon pre-Shabbat services and the High Holy Day celebrations in addition to the twice-a-week exercise classes, knitting club, and other activities.
“I feel lucky,” she said, carefully pronouncing her words. Her daughter Dorothy Ganek, who lives just up the hill from her, said, “My mother has felt very loved here.”