Breathing Life into an Isolated Population

L’Chaim Health and Wellness Center celebrates 20 years

Seniors at L'Chaim

Ida had a slight build and a sparkle in her eye. She was smart, full of life, and always looked for the bright side of a situation.

At age 83­­­, Ida had Parkinson’s disease and as it progressed, her hands became very shaky. One day, during her physical therapy session at L’Chaim Adult Day Health Care Center, she turned to Program Director Anna Borovik and said, “My hands have become so shaky. The good news is, now I can dance like a Gypsy!” Ida moved her hands around and did a little dance.

10 years later, Anna still looks back fondly on Ida’s spirit and positive outlook, which never faded even as age and illness took their toll on her.

Bringing Life to the Later Years

L’Chaim Adult Day Health Center, located on Judah Street in San Francisco, is a senior day program that has been serving Russian-speaking emigres since 1999. As the program’s 20th anniversary approaches, Anna reflects on her equally long tenure as Program Director and the hundreds of older adults the program has served over the years.

A typical day for a senior at L’Chaim includes nutritious meals, socializing with friends, exercise, English class, personalized therapy, computer education and entertainment. “They eat all together like family,” Anna shares. “Many are low income, and these meals are vital in their nutritional intake.

Anna also makes sure there is a lecture, concert, or other cultural activity every day. “Learning and music is a very important piece of our culture,” she says. “The music and dancing reminds me of Ida.”

L’Chaim, a Hebrew toast, means “to life.” As the plaque on the wall states, “L’Chaim is not only our name, it is our goal.”

L’Chaim’s Beginning

Between 1970-1991, thousands of Jews emigrated from the former Soviet Union to the Bay Area. Many brought their extended families and few of them spoke English. In search of a better life in the United States, many emigres gave up their professions, friends, status, and at times their self-worth, as they left everything they knew behind. Learning English and starting over in the United States was especially difficult for elderly emigres.

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS), the Bay Area’s oldest and largest social services agency, was at the forefront of helping to resettle the growing emigre population. Understanding that their elderly clients were struggling specifically, JFCS stepped in to provide medical, rehabilitative, and social services to elderly and disabled emigres in the area.

Anna helped to launch JFCS’ L’Chaim Adult Day Health Center in 1999, and has run the program ever since. L’Chaim is not only Anna’s career; it is her mission and her extended family.

“We really save lives here,” Anna says. “We give a sense of purpose to an otherwise isolated population.”

Ida with Ana
Anna Borovik (right) with her mother, Sima

One Big Family

Like many of her clients, Anna and her family emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1990s. As a Russian-speaking Jew, she knows the journey that her clients have faced and her connection with them is evident as you walk in the door. The average age may be 86, but you can feel the “life” buzz throughout the center.

Anna’s work has recently become especially personal, as she has taken on what she describes as her “most challenging client”—her own 96-year-old mother. Anna’s mother Sima emigrated to San Francisco in 1993, and as Anna describes her, she is one of the feistiest people that she has ever met. Sima receives physical therapy at L’Chaim and participates in daily activities.

With a grin, Anna says, “It’s a privilege to have these services for my mother. Not many people get to spend their work day watching their 96-year-old mother tackle life with such zest.”

About JFCS’ Seniors At Home:

Seniors At Home is the senior services division of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, a trusted nonprofit institution that has been caring for the Bay Area community since 1850. Through a comprehensive range of award-winning services, including home care, dementia care, and several social day clubs, Seniors At Home helps older adults live safer, happier, and more independent lives.

To learn more about how JFCS, Seniors At Home or L’Chaim Health and Wellness Center call 415-449-3777 or contact us online.