In May of 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo non-stop trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Radio Engineers viewed the first live demonstration of television, and the B’nai B’rith Home for the Aged was dedicated.
It was on May 23, 1927, that 500 delegates to the convention of the Seventh District of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith and their guests gathered in front of the new building at 131 North Tucker Street in Midtown, Memphis, Tenn. Designed by a New Orleans architectural firm in a Spanish stucco style, the Home was described as “a forerunner of homes for the aged.” Eligible residents of the seventh district were from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas.
On October 10, 1927, the Home admitted its first residents, Sam and Rachel Olswing. Among the early requirements for admission was that a resident be able to carry his or her own bags across the threshold. This is quite a different requirement from today.
The Home became its own nonprofit organization in the 1950s, independent of the B’nai B’rith organization. By 1967, the old building was completely replaced with a new modern facility. In 1992, they moved to a new state-of-the-art facility in Cordova and became known as Memphis Jewish Home. And in 2008, as more and more seniors came to the Home for rehab services, the name was changed to Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab (MJHR).
Fran Buchalter, probably the person more involved in different aspects of the Home’s history, was first a visiting Temple Israel Sunday School student, a medical technician who worked at the Home, the daughter of residents, a volunteer, president of the Friends, president of the board of directors, interim executive director, and more recently, a rehab resident herself.
Her wealth of institutional knowledge includes some interesting facts about “the old Home” as it’s referred to today. “I helped set up a lab in the facility to enable the B’nai B’rith Home to add Hospital to its name,” said Fran. “A number of volunteer Jewish doctors rotated every three months to cover medical needs and assist the nurses on staff. Originally the Home was only kosher style. It wasn’t until much later that it came under supervision and was truly kosher.”
To help keep costs down in the early days, Fran said, “My mother-in-law ran a canned goods drive collecting donations for the kitchen. But the kitchen also fed the staff for free while they were at work. There wasn’t a beauty shop on the premises. Students from the local beauty school would come to wash and style hair in the hallways.”
It wasn’t until the late 80s that the Home adopted an open admissions policy, admitting non-Jewish residents. Rehab services were not offered until the Home made its move to Cordova. “I believe the Home’s biggest accomplishment was moving from Midtown to Cordova,” said Fran. The decision to move east as well as the process to actually make it happen took hundreds of volunteers. It started with the board of directors who had the vision. Then it took a large group to raise the money to build the new building and others to oversee its construction. But it was the largest group who rolled up their collective sleeves and moved each and every resident with all their belongings to their new home all in one day.
May 2017 brings a yearlong celebration – 90 Years Caring for Generations. Throughout the coming months you’ll hear about speakers on the subject of aging, a special Shabbat celebration, a spring festival for families, and more.
“The community development committee and board of directors want the entire community to be part of the celebration,” said Gregg Landau, president of the board of directors. “MJHR has touched so many lives in its 90 years. Countless members of the Jewish community have been volunteers, family of patients and residents, and even patients and residents themselves. Most in our community have some connection to the Home.”
MJHR also celebrates 25 years at its current location this year.
MJHR is looking for early photos or stories to share about “the old Home.” They are also trying to find relatives of the Home’s first residents, Sam and Rachel Olswing, and identifying the small children in the 1927 dedication photo.
If you can share any of the above, please contact Joel Ashner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901.756.3273.