Once upon a time the Rolling Stones sang,“What a drag it is getting old…” What they should have sang was, what a drag it is BEING OLD!
The Israel Levin Senior Center at 201 Ocean Front Walk in Venice closed on May 22nd. It will be demolished and in its place Jewish Family Services plans on building a new three story center. The new center will have programs not just for elderly people anymore but for young people also. There will be offices for the Jewish Family Service and their groups like Nu Roots on the second floor. The third, top floor will have housing for young adults along with a deck for things like barbeques for young people. They also want to rename the new center the Bar Center on the Beach. It is estimated it will take about 15 months to build the new building. In the interim seniors from the center are being asked to go to the Oakwood Recreation Center in Venice.
There is already a senior program at the Oakwood Center and members of the Levin Center are being told to join them. The kosher food will be brought to the Oakwood Center along with some of the services. Some transportation may be arranged.
The Oakwood Recreation Center in Venice is at 767 California Ave. The park offers a wide variety of activities with an indoor gym, outdoor basketball courts and picnic tables. In years past it had dangerous gang problems but now is much safer. However, there have been some gang shootings again recently in the Oakwood area.
The Israel Levin Center was purchased in the early 1960s by Mr. Israel Levin to be a senior center. Mr. Levin was a local, successful property investor. He wanted a place for older Jewish people to meet. Later it became part of Jewish Family Services, a partner of the Jewish Federation of L.A.
The historic 100 year old building on the Ocean Front was originally the New Denver Hotel with various fast food shops around the front. Later it became a bingo parlor with dancing and the 2nd story was reputed to be a bordello. It became cheap apartments until Mr. Levin bought it to make a senior center.
Most people know the building because of its beautiful Marc Chagall style mural that surrounds the Levin Center. The famous mural designed by Christina Schlesinger may be recreated somewhere inside the new building.
In 1972 anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff began a study of the old Jews at the center. She made a documentary film about it that got an Academy Award in 1976 for best documentary film called,“Remember Our Days”.
Sherri, who was the recent director at the Israel Levin Senior Center has been a great bonus for us during her stay there and so has the present food director Scott. Both have done much to add new programs and make it fun for us. Sherri was terrific and was the best director the Levin Center had in many years. Scott may be the best food service person ever. He also taught a couple fantastic writing classes to us. However, most of the decisions on moving have been up to their bosses at Jewish Family Services. Most of the time when asked they said,“We don’t know yet. We need to wait to hear from the JFS and as soon as we know we will tell all of you.” I kept asking Sherri to help me write this article but she kept saying,“Let’s wait until we find out more.” Sherri unfortunately will not be the director in Oakwood since they already have a director there. She said she will go by and check on us once or twice a week. She is also a senior and said she may retire in awhile. One old duffer commented,“She works for them and has to do what they tell her.”
Most senior members I’ve talked to would like the old building saved. I have left out their names so they wouldn’t be chastised or banned. They are very sad and feel like they are losing an old friend. Most think that instead of spending the estimated 7-8 million dollars on a new structure that the old place could just be remodeled for far, far less money. One 90 year old lady said,“No one asked us? We old members should have a vote if we want our place torn down!”
To be fair, there are a couple people who would like a new place. The air conditioning and heater broke some time ago and they were not fixed because they planned to tear the building down and didn’t want to put money into it to keep it up. So we have had to endure the cold and heat with a couple cheap fans and space heaters. Could it be that some of the serious colds and infections and even death were attributed to the lack of heating? Is this elder abuse? Also, the toilets often backed up and the bathrooms needed an upgrade. The kitchen needed to be modernized. The outside and inside needed some repairs.
They have been in a hurry to get us ‘alta cockers’ (old shits) out and get rid of everything inside. There has been a sudden rush and they are still trying to figure out what to do with us. They originally were going to close on May 25th but moved it back to the 22nd. I think they may be afraid there could be a backlash from the Venice community as there has been for saving the Oakwood Church and the Kinney-Tabor house? This is a historic old building going back to about 1915 with a famous mural and it is the location of an Academy Award movie. There is a LOT of money involved in their plans and I’m sure they don’t want any protests.
However, most of us old people have health problems and have no strength to do anything but kvetch (complain). One older woman sadly said,“I have to be concerned about my illnesses and try not to think about the center closing or it will make me get sick.” Me too. Actually things in my life are clicking much more for me now than ever, my knees, my neck, my back…Oy! The other day I went to see my doctor. I told him,“Doctor Swartz, every morning I wake up at 8 a.m. and have a good pee. It flows like a river. Then I have a enormous poop and then I feel great!” So my doctor asks,“You sound fine, so what’s the problem?” And I said,“But doctor, I don’t get out of bed until 9.”
Some members have complained that,“They had promised us our own place while the new building is being constructed but instead we are supposed to go to the Oakwood Center to join another group.” Another older woman asked,“If they can afford 8 million bucks for a new place for themselves then why couldn’t they spend a few thousand a month to rent our own place nearby?” One fat, older man there said,“They had a couple of years to find us another place and figure things out and now they are trying to figure things out in the last minute. They kept telling us they were going to find us another place nearby and they lied to us. They were just blowing smoke up our ass!”
They have made up a silly name for the program of sending us and the kosher food to the Oakwood Recreation Center, ILC on the Move (Israel Levin Center on the Move). Instead it should be called ILC is Removed! One old geezer in a walker said,“It’s stupid for them to send our kosher food to the Oakwood Center. Most of the people there are Mexican or Black and they love their pork!” So maybe we can convince the goyim (non Jews) in Oakwood to convert? The 88 year old Mexican and Black men can be circumcised and have bar mitzvahs and the women can have bat mitzvahs and they all can give up their shrimp and pork carnitas for matzo ball soup and borscht? Sometimes almost half the guests at the Levin Center were not Jewish. Some came there because it was close to where they live or they liked to be by the beach.
I have heard that some of the old members at the Oakwood Center have objected to our kosher food. One old, Black lady screamed that,“We don’t want this kosher food! We want our old food back!” One of the old members from the Levin said,“They don’t want us there. They were yelling and arguing about them getting our food.” Just like us nobody asked the Oakwood oldsters if they wanted us or our kosher food. This was not only unfair to us but also to the seniors who were going to Oakwood. Nobody seems to care about asking us old timers our opinion or care.
The new, modern design for the new building has strange rectangular and diamond shapes around it. They say it will more than double the height of the present building. One oldster member looking at the artist’s different renditions of the new building in their brochure commented that,“I think it looks ugly! It is totally out of place with the surrounding community.”
A few people including a couple JFS workers thought that the old building could be reinforced and saved. There once was a 2nd story and it could be retrofitted and rebuilt again to be used as their offices as they plan. The top of the old building is already flat and it could be strengthened and turned into a top deck. But today young people want out with the old and in with the new. There is no reverence for old buildings or old people.
The new center is to be re-named the Bar Center because the Bar family donated a lot of gelt, shekels and mazuma. Another elderly gentleman joked, “We already have the Venice Beach Bar down the block. If they rename the Israel Levin Center to the Bar Center On the Beach then everyone will think it is a bar and come in for a beer!” I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks. Maybe they could serve Manischewitz kosher grape wine with challah?
Several have complained that they talk down to us older folks like we are little children even though some seniors there are much better educated than they are. An older worker there said,“They’re kickin us old folks to the ground!” The old guy in the walker replied,“The Chinese honor their old and their ancestors, but in America they don’t care. They forget us or throw us away in some rotten old aged home to kill us!” Another ancient fossil told me,“They just want to get rid of us old people so they can have a nice place at the beach for themselves.” Their brochure says they will be,“…uniting toddlers, teens, and young adults with baby boomers and seniors.”
I think that if the ghost of Mr. Levin could come back today and see what they are doing to his Jewish senior center he would take his property back! Actually, some of us thought the original bargain with Mr. Levin’s estate and JFS was to keep it as a senior center? One gray, old cocker said,“They already have plenty of places for young people to go and now they want to take over our little place for us old people!” Another moaned that,“The new place will have a new image and new people running it. It will be mostly for young Jewish hipsters that think all of a sudden Judaism is so cool! It will be mostly 25-35 year old’s with big fake smiles. We might not mind the changes in age and attitudes, but we will miss the genuine smiles that are to be found there now.”
Many have told me that they don’t plan on going to the Oakwood Center. Some I’ve talked to are already going to other senior centers around town. I’ve heard from friends at other senior centers that they’ve been seeing our members there. There has only been a small handful of our old members going to the Oakwood Center and only a couple of them are even Jewish. Some of us with our age and health issues won’t even be alive when the new project is finally finished. A year and a half to two years to complete the project is FOREVER to a lot of us seniors.
A couple friends asked me,“Why write this article? It is already a done deal. They’ve already paid off everyone and it is going to happen.” They even warned that they may sic some Israeli commandos on me for writing this story. Well, I may be a fool but some of us old farts have to at least speak our minds and speak out for our rights even if nobody is listening to us because we are old or poor. The song from the musical the Man of La Mancha goes,“To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe…to right the unrightable wrong…no matter how hopeless, no matter how far… to be willing to march into hell for that heavenly cause…” Believe me, this was one of the hardest things for me to ever write. Most of us loved Sherri and most of the people from the JFS have been great. It is just that most of us old people thought that if they are willing to spend so many millions then why couldn’t they find some other place and leave our little piece of heaven alone?
Our culture and our TV shows like to portray old people as silly, worthless, absent minded and still living in the past. What young people can’t seem to understand is that senility is not a matter of years but attitudes and mental health. I know 19 year old’s who to me are senile and act like 100. There was a 102 year young gal going to the Levin Center who is more aware and alert than most 20 something mentally constipated Republicans. Maybe we need to once again call out for GRAY POWER! Or if you are in England, GREY POWER! The song ‘Young at Heart’ goes,“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you if you’re young at heart… And if you should survive to 105 look at all you’ll derive out of being alive. Then here is the best part, you have a head start if you are among the young at heart.” Yes, what counts is not your age but if you stay young at heart.
All of you young people out there will one day be old too you know. Open your eyes! As George Carlin once joked,“None of us have a choice about getting elderly, we just do.” We oldsters used to be wild rock and rollers like you youngsters are. Now we just rock in our rocking chairs. We used to be hippies and smoked pot. Now we just sit on the pot and poop all day. They call old age the Golden Years. I think what they mean by the Golden Years is that we can’t hold our pee. Well it all ‘Depends’.
The last couple weeks at the Levin Center reminded me of that song “Anatevka” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” where the poor Jews are being kicked out of their beloved old town. In the last days before the Levin closed a few of us elderly folk shed some tears. One 80 year old man sobbed,“Goodbye Levin Center! This is the last time we will see the inside of you.”
To many of us it was more than just a senior center, it was a holy Jewish temple where we celebrated Friday Shabbot, Passover, other holidays and birthdays. We prayed, sang, danced and had exercise classes there. We will begin holding our Friday Shabbot at the Shul on the Beach. One old timer philosophized,“We had a lot of good times there and wonderful memories but nothing lasts forever and everything changes…” Change can be hard for everyone, but especially for us old folks. After it closed the fat, old dude said,“We had a great thing while it lasted, but all good things must come to an end.”
Buddhism teaches that to be free we must give up all attachments to both people and things. After all is said and done the new center could still be good. The young adults I’ve met who are part of the organizations who will be there have been very nice. Toddlers, children and young people can be a lot fun. The future belongs to the youth. They have lots of energy and new, innovative ideas. My mother used to say,“We old people have had our day and we should move over and give the young people their chance.” Maybe it is time for us old farts to move on.
Let us hope the new center will bring as much love, joy, and happy times as the old building has over its many years. Please stop by to say goodbye to the old Venice Beach landmark with its beautiful, iconic mural before it is only a memory. Mazel tov and zei gezunt to all. Shalom.
– MOISHE KAPOYER
Earlier Related article: https://freevenicebeachhead.org/2017/04/17/chagall-evicted-from-venice/