It’s not just the food and live music that bring families to the Hebrew Home at Riverdale on Grandparents Day each year, but the opportunity to celebrate and recognize these important family members in the one place where it all started.
Hundreds of families make the journey to the northwest Bronx every September to observe the holiday that is credited to the late Jacob Reingold, Hebrew Home’s former executive vice president, who celebrated the first Grandparents Day at the 5901 Palisade Ave., facility in 1961. Two years later, it became an official holiday in the Bronx, before becoming a national celebration in 1978 thanks to President Jimmy Carter.
Hebrew Home opened its doors to hundreds of families and guests last week for the annual chance to celebrate those who came before them.
“It’s a beautiful event,” said Daniel Reingold, president and chief executive of the home, and son of the holiday’s founder.
“We want to be a beacon to honor our grandparents and all of the sacrifices they made. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
This year’s theme was tied to Woodstock, marking 50 years since the music festival took place upstate. Volunteers and staff members walked around with tie-dyed shirts commemorating the event.
“A lot of these residents very well might have been at Woodstock,” Reingold joked.
For 92-year-old Jacqueline Kimmelstiel, this year’s festivities were both extra special — and sad. The event fell on the same day of what would have been her late husband Albert’s 96th birthday. Still, Kimmelstiel had a chance to celebrate the day with her two great-grandchildren.
Kimmelstiel was born in Germany in 1927, and moved to France shortly after Hitler took control. Her immediate family survived the Holocaust, and she went to school until she was 12, something in hindsight Kimmelsteil wishes she could have changed.
“I couldn’t go to school, and that bothers me to this day,” she said. “Everyone should get a good education, and that is something I made sure my kids received.”
Kimmelstiel came to the United States after World War II, and worked as a seamstress. She met Albert at night school where both were learning English. He also was a Holocaust survivor, and actually spent time at Auschwitz.
Kimmelstiel says getting to see her great-grandchildren is “the most wonderful thing that you live for.” Her great-grandson Judah is 3, and her great-granddaughter Goldie is just 6 weeks old.
Joan Jackson’s family is the most important thing to her. She’s lived at the Hebrew Home for five years, and says she’s loved every second of it.
“Sometimes I’ll call her room, and she’s not there,” Jackson’s granddaughter, Melissa Jackson, said. “She’s such a busy bee that she’s always at activities, and sometimes she runs them. We’re best buddies, and I love to visit her.”
Although she was born in New York City, Jackson moved to Hawaii when her husband, Peter, enlisted in the Vietnam War. Six months later, she gave birth to her youngest child. When her husband passed away in 1968, she moved her family back to New York.
Jackson celebrated Grandparents Day with her five children and six grandchildren.
“We come to Grandparents Day every year,” said Jackson’s daughter, Vivian. “We love it. It’s a fun time to spend with our mom.”
Elizabeth Klein was another Hebrew Home resident celebrating the special day. She is the last surviving sibling of a family of nine born in Hungary. And she, too, is a Holocaust survivor.
For this Grandparents Day, Klein was joined by four generations of her family, including her first great-grandchild.
“They take great care of her here,” Klein’s daughter, Mona Klein Klapper, said. “We’re grateful for the care she gets, and always look forward to coming for this event and all events offered for residents.”
It takes a lot of preparations for the day to run smoothly. James Iatrou, Hebrew Home’s food services director, starts preparing dishes a month in advance inside the facility’s kitchen.
This gives Iatrou and his team a chance to “sample different options and finalize the menu for the day.”
While it’s a special day across the country, at least on Palisade Avenue, it’s a celebration that’s always ongoing, Reingold said.
“Even though Grandparents Day is celebrated in September,” he said, “here at the Hebrew Home, we try to make every day Grandparents Day.”