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Missing Neuman

Anne Richman recalls faces during the Neuman Center reunion at the Raymond and Miriam Klein JCC in Somerton. JENNY SWIGODA / TIMES PHOTO

Judy Schwartz recalls with fondness the Jewish Community Centers David G. Neuman Senior Center.

Schwartz was the first director of the senior center, which opened at 6600 Bustleton Ave. (at Magee Avenue) in Castor Gardens in 1975 and was renamed two years later. For two decades earlier, it had been known as the multigenerational Neighborhood Center.

The way Schwartz remembers it, Neuman mixed fun with education.

The center was home to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, English language classes, social services, health screenings, a citizenship course, exercise classes, an emergency food closet and a meal program.

Then there were the special occasions.

Florida congressman Claude Pepper, a hero to many senior citizens, held a House Committee on Aging hearing at the center. There was a United States Postal Service dedication of a Pepper stamp. Max Weiner, a local senior icon and crusader for consumer issues, also visited the center.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed excess cheese one day, drawing a throng to the center.

Schwartz also remembers older folks singing Yiddish songs and enjoying listening to an Italian guy named Dave sing Ave Maria.

“The Neuman Center was a very, very happy part of my life,” she said. “I never minded coming to work.”

Last week, Schwartz and almost 100 former Neuman Center employees and members gathered for a reunion at the Raymond and Miriam Klein JCC, at 10100 Jamison Ave., in Somerton.

The Neuman Center closed in February 2004 with little fanfare but plenty of sadness. Today, the building houses a school.

The center’s programs were moved six miles away to the Klein branch, a bustling facility that is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Rosalie Alexander had been the site director at Neuman for 14 years when it closed. She described it as “the best-kept secret in the Northeast,” and a warm place with a family feeling.

At the same time, some 2,300 people were official members, so the center’s good works were known to many.

Highlights of Alexander’s tenure included candidates forums that attracted the likes of Frank L. Rizzo, Arlen Specter and Ed Rendell. Elizabeth Dole visited in 2000 when Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention, and she served lunch to members. State Sen. Tina Tartaglione held her annual senior fair at the center. And ABC newsman Aaron Brown visited during a presidential election year to ask seniors about the key issues on their minds.

The Neuman Center was the site of a thrift-shop fashion show and a wedding reception for two members. A computer lab opened in 1999.

“There are a lot of good memories from Neuman,” said Marcia Gross, the longtime director of RSVP, the volunteer program.

Barbara Shotz, program director at the Neuman Center, remembers a place filled with laughter and hugs. Staffers frequently mingled with members.

“When we did that, all was right with the world,” said Shotz, now vice president for programs and education at the Klein JCC.

The crowd at the June 1 event ate lunch, played a “Neuman Reunion Quizzo” game and looked at numerous photo albums. One album included an activity log from April 10, 1987, when Pepper visited. He signed the log, “Happy to be here.”

In keeping with tradition, Doris Gordon led all in the singing of Hatikvah and God Bless America.

Jack Stecki, who read a poem in honor of the Neuman Center, recalled one special perk — 25 cents for unlimited coffee.

Lillian Rosen, a former Neuman member, sang songs of tribute to the center to the tunes of Hello Dolly! and Roll Out the Barrel. Her husband Phil has written four books about the Holocaust and often lectured on the subject at Neuman.

According to Lillian Rosen, immigrants and Holocaust survivors especially treasured their time at Neuman.

“It was a home away from home,” she said.

Indeed, Yelena Berezina was one of those who left their jobs, homes and friends in the Soviet Union to come to the United States.

A Kiev native, she credited the Neuman staff with assisting them in their adjustment. “They helped us in our new life,” she said.

Suzanne Tepper, a former program director at Neuman, was glad to see that so many former members are making good use of the services at Klein.

“The love and the caring still exists,” she said. ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com

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