Sixteen years ago, when Esther Steiner heard her older sister, Rose Tammer, was moving into a nursing home, she was horrified.
As a volunteer at a nursing home in her native New York City, she had her own idea of what such facilities are like--impersonal, crowded buildings where the elderly can only sit and degenerate.
Then she came west to check on the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda and changed her mind.
"I told my husband, 'I've made up my mind,' " said Steiner. "This is going to be the place where I go."
Now, Steiner and Tammer are roommates in the facility of 750, and they are the kind of residents whom Annabel Goldstein, senior development executive, likes to introduce to visitors.
"It's like living in a hotel," said Tammer. "I've been happy since I first came here. They feed us, and we don't have to worry about doing dishes. We don't have to worry about bills."
The Jewish Home for the Aging is beginning a campaign to publicize what home officials call their "special little secret." They describe the home as a place with an almost collegiate atmosphere where residents, who have an average age of 85, can enjoy recreation, culture, learn crafts, go to synagogue and even fall in love again.
"We've even had some weddings here," said Michael Turner, director of public relations. "They're celebrating life here."
Goldstein, who typically has conducted private tours of the facility, is trying to expand the program to include larger groups that may be interested in supporting the home. She wants to break some of the stereotypical views of the elderly and nursing homes.
"We want people to feel they're getting the dignity and respect they deserve," Goldstein said. "That's from the Fifth Commandment: Honor your father and mother."
The Jewish Home for the Aging was founded in 1912 in Boyle Heights when three elderly Jewish men from the County Poor Farm persuaded a group of young Jews to rent a cottage for them so they could spend Passover in a kosher setting.
After the holiday, the group continued housing the men and the home has grown from there. It was located in several different sites before moving in 1974 to its permanent location on Victory Boulevard.
Five years after its founding, the facility merged with Menorah Village, another home that once was used to house and retrain unemployed garment workers and, after that, as a refuge for Jews who fled Nazi-occupied Europe.
The present facility has 650 employees, including social workers, doctors, nurses, rabbis and other staff members who provide 24-hour-a-day care for the residents. Community support helps pay for a quarter of the home's $24-million annual budget. A majority of residents are covered by Medicare.
The Northridge earthquake last year shook the facility financially. Donors had to raise about $1.5 million to help repair $4 million in quake damage, with the rest coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Because the quake also shook many elderly residents out of their homes, the home's waiting list jumped from an average of 60 to 371 potential tenants.
Throughout the home's grounds are statues, plaques and memorials to major contributors, residents or victims of the Holocaust. There is a new medical building that still smells of fresh paint and plaster. A landscaped garden was recently planted between the nursing care facility and the Alzheimer's disease special care unit.
Trudy Altman of Tarzana toured the facility recently, wondering if this might be a place for her father. Goldstein promised her that he would be popular.
"I wanted to see it for myself, but I wish my father would be open to it," Altman said.
Those who want to volunteer as tour guides may call Goldstein at (818) 774-3334.
\o7 Getting Involved is a weekly listing of volunteering opportunities. Please address prospective listings to Getting Involved, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338.