Probe Continuing into Fire That Gutted Senior Service Center

The police and fire departments are continuing their investigations of a fire, last Thursday, suspected to be arson, that virtually destroyed the entire inside of a four-story building that served as a multi-service center for over 500 elderly Jews. The early morning blaze that ripped through the South Philadelphia Senior Center may have destroyed a central lifeline for the elderly Jews, but it did not destroy their spirit.

“We are like the Israelites dispersed and, like them, we shall find our new home,” declared 70-year-old Sophie Flexer, one of the many residents of this once thriving Jewish neighborhood who took full advantage of the programs provided by the Center. These included a subsidized hot lunch program, a management services program, social activities, clubs, classes and outings.

“Yes, we are going to rebuild, they can’t keep us down,” said Nathan Greenberg, 72. Rose Levin, who is 72 years old and wheelchair-bound, said “I participated in everything” at the Center, “and I will at a new place. One thing I learned at the Center was there is no such thing as can’t.”

‘GUTSIEST GROUP OF PEOPLE’

“This is the gutsiest group of people, ” said Frances Kleiner, director of the Center. “They are just amazing: they are not written off. There is a piece of Jewish history in that building, many of these people’s children went to school there. Damn those who started that fire. But we’ll do something to get this place started again for these people.”

“For most of these people, the Center was like a second home,” said David Friedman, public relations director of the Jewish Community Centers. “It was a reason to get up in the morning.”

While there is not yet any word on rebuilding the heavily damaged center, the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia is responding to the crisis by resuming emergency operations and a hot-lunch program at the Mt. Sinai-Daroff Division of the Albert Einstein Medical Center, according to Samuel Sorin, Jewish Community Center executive director.

The temporary services being provided at Einstein are due to the generosity of Steven Levitsky, director of the facility, “who graciously responded to our request for space,” said Sorin. “Similar offers from the Jewish Family and Children’s Agency and Federation day care services proved that the Jewish community is quick to respond in times of crisis,” he said.

Both Sorin and Federation of Jewish Agencies president Bennett Aaron praised the responsiveness of the Federation agencies. “I am greatly impressed by the tremendous cooperation exhibited by all the agencies in our Federation family,” said Aaron, adding that the staff and leadership of both the JCC and Jewish Employment and Vocational Service merit special thanks for their dedication to meeting the needs of their clients.

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