Interviewing Benefactors and Beneficiaries
Collaboration between The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and Aviva Senior Living enabled many in our community to withstand the onslaught of Hurricane Ian. Jewish values of caring for others and repairing the world: tzedakah and tikkun olam, respectively, played a vital role.
The fact that this brutal storm made landfall during the High Holy Days highlights the religious significance, which Temple Emanu-El Associate Rabbi Michael Shefrin (one of many who took shelter at Aviva) addresses in his interview.
Federation’s relief fund and other support for local synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were bolstered when CEO Shep Englander reached out to The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA is the parent organization ), touting Aviva’s altruism in welcoming 150 community members forced to evacuate.
As beneficiary of JFNA’s generous $15,000, Federation donated that money to Aviva so it could help in its recovery efforts while also maintaining exemplary care for its 350 residents.
Comments from some of those who benefited from such protection paint a picture of Aviva’s 24/7 focus. Al and Meredith Ernst, who wanted to provide emotional, mental, and physical well-being for her mother, Carryl Alexander, an Aviva resident, agree that its staff and volunteers provided round-the-clock care for all.
Meredith’s comment highlights that support: “The Chief Operating Officer (COO) Jean Kramer was present from early in the morning until late at night. While at Aviva we heard only kind, reassuring words in conjunction to lots of smiles and big hugs.”
Al says it all: “Time at Aviva was surprisingly pleasant, especially during a time of stress. Winds were blowing outside, but all was calm inside.”
Rabbi Shefrin, who had to evacuate with his family, concurs with the Ernsts, highlighting how Federation’s beneficence worked in tandem with Aviva’s support.
Collaborative efforts between Aviva and Federation helped the community endure Ian. Aviva CEO Jay Solomon and Shep agree that both nonprofits focus on Sarasota-Manatee, caring for needy members of our community and preserving our culture and tradition of tikkun olam.
Interviews From Aviva Beneficiaries:
The Ernsts, Past Federation Volunteers
How did the staff and volunteers make you feel at home?
For three nights we stayed with my mother in her two-bedroom apartment. Al and I were amazed at the grace, support, and patience with which the staff cared for the residents and its guests. Immediately upon our arrival, we were warmly welcomed and provided with large wagons to carry our belongings.
Concurring with his wife, Al shed more light on Aviva’s welcome, saying, “Aviva made it easy on us, helping us carry necessary items to Meredith’s mother’s room and responding to all our questions.”
Al and Meredith also point out that the staff had devised a plan—updated daily to meet everyone’s needs. Three delicious, nutritious and gourmet meals were served daily in the large Kretzmer Center multi-purpose room. The dining-room and bistro chefs are to be commended.
What did your day look like?
My mother introduced us to several of her friends and a few staff members. Al and I also assisted some residents. At meal time, he carried their trays and drinks and brought chairs over to a table so a resident could dine with friends.
I also helped a resident find her phone, accompanying her to her dark apartment and dialing her number so she could locate it when it rang.
We also enjoyed coffee and conversation while charging our electronics in the Kretzmer Room. Although there weren’t any formally organized activities, my mother and I reminisced and played Rummikub by flashlight.
· Rabbi Michael Shefrin
Why did you take shelter at Aviva? Why did you have to evacuate?
Our house is in a flood zone. With a week-old baby, a toddler, my wife, Shayna, who had just given birth, and our dog Goliath, we needed to evacuate and find a place with a generator. During Irma, Aviva had graciously taken us in when Shayna was seven months pregnant with our first child.
Who helped with that effort?
Jay Solomon and the entire staff. We thought we would just stay with my mom, an Aviva resident, but we were given access to an unfurnished apartment. We broke out the air mattresses and set up camp. Our four-year-old called it our “vacation storm house.”
What was your experience at Aviva?
Aviva was a haven of support and generosity. We felt safe and looked after. More significant, it was a lovely opportunity to be a part of the community. I spent time with congregants from Temple Emanu-El, made some new friends with residents, got to know some of the staff, and prayed with a number of people.
How did the staff/volunteers make you feel at home?
Everything we asked for and inquired about was achieved—with kindness shown by all involved. In particular, the kitchen and maintenance staff were always available, treating us like family. A big shout out to everyone working at the front desk for being so informed and calm in a harrowing time.
How was Ian’s onslaught significant during the High Holy Days?
For rabbis and temples, the High Holidays are already a time of stress and intricate planning. Holy work, Avodah, takes a level of intention. The volume of intensity was turned up to the maximum—with the worries about damage, technological challenges, and—paramount—the concern for life.
Ian has reminded us, similarly to the way that the Days of Awe do, that we are being given a chance to start over:
How could the hurricane and Aviva’s support be meshed with the religious significance of the holidays?
First, the sheer magnitude of the experience: Each year we go through ups and downs on the religious calendar. Then the High Holidays come, prompting us to take stock, reflect, and, hopefully, take drastic measures to improve our lives and our world. I believe Ian has caused us to do that as well.
Secondly, the chance for renewal: Ian has reminded us in much the way that the Days of Awe do that we are starting over: that we have a chance to fix what has been broken, heal what has been harmed, mourn where the sadness has come forth, and hope and pray for a better tomorrow. I pray that 5783 is filled with these ideals for all people.
· CEO Shep Englander
In what ways did you and Aviva collaborate?
Federation and Aviva share leadership and provide targeted grants for Jewish programs and for campus security.
Which other organizations did Federation assist?
We assisted local congregations, JFSCS and the Community Day School.
Benefactor and Beneficiary: Aviva also benefited from Federation’s tzedakah
· CEO Jay Solomon
After Hurricane Ian, did you have to enlist Federation’s assistance or did they approach you? In what ways?
Shep reached out to me to identify any problems or issues that the Aviva campus was experiencing. We spoke multiple times by text and calls starting Saturday, October 1st through Monday, October 3rd.
In what ways did you and Federation collaborate?
Federation put us in touch with Amy Maguire, their political consultant, who has been providing us with advice and resources in obtaining grants through federal and state funding opportunities.
Hurricane Ian caused us to spend over $150,000 in emergency related expenses. The Federation awarded us a grant of $15,000 to offset some of these costs and provide immediate relief.
How else did Aviva help the community?
Hurricane Ian gave Aviva the opportunity to practice tikkun olam by hosting 20 Plymouth Harbor residents and 11 of their staff members when they were evacuated for the storm. We also hosted over 50 staff members and their families and numerous resident family members. We are proud of our staff and their dedication to our community!
· COO Jean Kramer
During the hurricane, what were your challenges?
Maintaining power with generators that often-required manual manipulation.
Ensuring that we had a backup generator on site large enough to accommodate the power needs.
Ensuring that we had enough diesel fuel for the unknown period of power outage.
Ensuring that we had enough food to accommodate all evacuees and our residents over 200 additional people were on our campus during the worst of the storm.
Ensuring that we had adequate staff to care for our residents.
What were your rewards?
Residents and evacuees were safe and secure during the storm.
Staff and family who were affected by post-storm damage were able to stay on campus until homes were ready to occupy.
We were fortunate to receive a grant of $15,000 from Federation towards offsetting the additional costs and expenses incurred of over $150,000 during the storm. We also received a $2,400 gift from the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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