At jubilee, Handmaker looks to past success, new collaboration

Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging is celebrating its 50th anniversary jubilee with a black-tie gala next month. Hirsch Handmaker, a physician in Phoenix, remembers how his parents, Mae and I. H. “Murf” Handmaker, came up with the idea for a Jewish geriatric home in Tucson.

I.H. “Murf” and Mae Handmaker started the process for a Jewish geriatric home in Tucson in the 1950s.
I.H. “Murf” and Mae Handmaker started the process for a Jewish geriatric home in Tucson in the 1950s.

“My maternal grandmother, Pearl Bloom, suffered from dementia and she lived with us in Tucson in the ’50s,” Handmaker told the AJP in a recent phone interview. “She was a kosher woman, very religious, and when her dementia became unmanageable, my mother and father were not able to take care of her. They looked for a facility in Arizona where she could observe religious rituals and kashrut” and receive dementia care, but no such place existed. “They had to send her back to New York, where some other family members lived and found a facility like that.”

Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

His mother concluded “it was not right, in a city like Tucson with many actively practicing Jews, that there not be a facility for that,” says Handmaker. As a schoolteacher and an active member of Jewish organizations, he says, she was able to forecast that the need for a Jewish home for the aged would grow. Mae and Murf began conversations with other community leaders about building a Jewish nursing home, but Mae died in 1955 at the age of 47.

“When that happened, my father became even more committed to a cause that they had shared,” says Handmaker.

The Tucson Jewish Community Council — forerunner of today’s Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona — undertook a study that confirmed the need for a Jewish geriatric home. The Charles Wilson family donated seven acres of prime real estate on Rosemont Boulevard, adjacent to Tucson Medical Center.

“The two families, the Handmaker and the Bloom families, were kind of the spearheads for the fundraising, and a lot of other community folks contributed significantly with money, time and energy for the initial facility,” says Handmaker.

He recalls that in addition to continued financial support, his family stayed involved on a personal level. “My sisters, my nieces and nephews, went to the center, they read to the residents, they were involved in every activity in the early years,” he says. Phil Bregman, the grandson of his father’s brother, “became very actively involved, and when his mother and father passed, then the Bregman Pavilion became another piece of the facility.”

Now, with construction underway for the Paul and Lydia Kal­manovitz Elder Care Center, a partnership between Handmaker and TMC, says Handmaker, praise is due to families like the Riches and the Rothschilds and to Art Martin, president and CEO of Handmaker. The new center, which is being built on the site of the old Bregman building, will have one floor with 20 beds for the long-term care of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, run by Handmaker, and a second floor with 16 beds for short-term geriatric and psychiatric care, licensed by TMC.

Lowell Rothschild, of the law firm of Mesch, Clark and Rothschild, P.C., notes that it was his son, Jonathan, now mayor of Tucson, who’d served on the board of Handmaker. The elder Rothschild became involved with the facility when Mel Cohen and others at his firm represented Handmaker in a successful financial reorganization that concluded in 2007.

He and Hirsch Handmaker began talking about the facility’s ongoing goals, says Rothschild, and the growing local need for dementia treatment, not just care. Through a mutual friend, Lou Giraudo, they made a connection with the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation of San Francisco, which required that a hospital or educational facility be involved before they’d grant funds, so Rothschild, along with Cohen and Jonathan Rothschild, reached out to TMC. The Kalmanovitz Foundation came through with a $3 million dollar 2-for-1 matching grant, and Handmaker raised the $1.5 million in matching funds.

Like the original Handmaker facility, the new center, says Rothschild, “is just another major contribution that the Jewish com­munity has made to the whole Tucson community.”

Handmaker notes that the participation of Giraudo, who is Catholic, harks back to his father’s insistence that Handmaker be non-denominational, open to all, even though it has “Jewish” in the name, serves kosher food and caters to the religious needs of Jewish residents. His father grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Pittsburgh, he says, “and it was a great joy to him that the Catholic Church was involved and there’s mass said” at Handmaker.

Just as it was 50 years ago, “the community has been fantastic in support financially and intellectually and spiritually with the facility,” says Handmaker, “and the plans are so unique that we’ve discussed it with people all over the United States and there really is no other facility that we’re aware of that has on one campus everything from adult day care to hospitalization when a serious illness occurs to one of the residents, where their family can live in the same environment in apartments and see their loved one every day. It’s going to be a really wonderful and unique facility.”

Handmaker’s Top Hat 50th Anniversary Jubilee will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, at 7:15 p.m. at the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa. The black-tie affair will include dinner and dancing, live entertainment and a live auction. Tickets are $250 to $325 per person. RSVP to Howard Paley at 322-3632 or hpaley@handmaker.org or at www.handmaker.org.