With over 100 Ohel Bais Ezra residences and apartments in Nassau Country, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, one easily forgets the dearth of housing and the herculean efforts of a few dedicated individuals who helped overcome both the financial hurdles and stigma in the community. Ohel Bais Ezra’s recent chanukas habayis following the complete renovation of its 12th Avenue Brooklyn residence for ten women with developmental disabilities provided that perspective.
Those in attendance included Ohel co-presidents Moishe Hellman and Mel Zachter, Rabbi Philip Goldberg, Ohel board members, Ohel staff, residents, and family members, as well as Ms. Donna Limiti, director of New York State’s developmental disabilities regional offices.
Aryeh Jacobson, son of former Ohel Bais Ezra President David Jacobson, paid a moving tribute to the history of Ohel Bais Ezra’s first ever group home.
The birth pains of Ohel Bais Ezra’s first residence were not smooth but miraculous. Following the national exposé and closure of The Willowbrook State School for those with disabilities, where over a third of residents were Jewish, the Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Goldberg, singlehandedly undertook the daunting task of providing for these individuals.
Seeking to provide housing that met the specific needs of these Jewish individuals with disabilities, Rabbi Goldberg approached many Jewish agencies at the time, who already severely strained financially, could not offer any help.
Rabbi Goldberg approached Mr. Lester Kaufman, Ohel’s executive director at the time, who conveyed that while they were already in debt funding existing community programs and could not provide seed money to purchase a home, they were able and willing to help secure such housing for those adults with developmental disabilities.
Rabbi Goldberg confronted many obstacles—from banks who declined to grant mortgages, to many community boards who refused to even consent to such a purchase—fearing the impact on their neighborhood. Rabbi Goldberg remembers that at a community board hearing in Midwood, residents vehemently rejected the purchase of a building in Flatbush and Rabbi Goldberg, Lester Kaufman, and Dr. Philip Kipust; a member of the Jewish Teachers Association, were booed out of the meeting.
Four years later in 1978, after many more Jewish patients left Willowbrook, a community board in Boro Park agreed to approve the purchase of Ohel Bais Ezra’s first ever group home. And with still no financing available, Rabbi and Mrs. Goldberg decided to personally fund the down payment of the purchase.
This first Ohel Bais Ezra home was given the name of ‘The Avrohom Sholom Rosenfeld Residence for Women,’ after his tragic passing a few years after the residence opened—and his name has ever since served as a monument to Avrohom Sholom’s selfless dedication in those early years.
The 24/7 dedication of Ohel staff has made this and all other such Ohel Bais Ezra residences into loving and thriving homes. So too, the support from federal, state, and city governments and their elected officials for their trust and faith in Ohel is a testimony to both their community commitment as well as Ohel’s stellar record of consistently high ratings and service excellence.
Ms. Donna Limiti, director of New York State’s developmental disabilities regional offices in Queens and Brooklyn, spoke movingly at the ceremony and commented that the evening was much more than just a celebration of renovation but a recognition to Ohel’s “loving and family atmosphere” she immediately noted on entering the home.
In closing, and representing a deep generational commitment, Aryeh Jacobson paid tribute to his parents David and Susan Jacobson. He commended his father who has served as president of Ohel Bais Ezra for more than 10 years, who inspired his own involvement and who introduced and encouraged many others to become engaged and stay involved. v