On any given day the KleinLife center in Northeast Philadelphia is bustling. People stream through the glass doors heading to exercise classes, discussion groups, meals, doctor’s visits, religious services or just to hang out and kibbitz in an array of languages. Long a pillar of Greater Philadelphia Jewish life, KleinLife has adapted to the changing needs of a community in transformation. Now, it’s getting national recognition for being one of the largest, most impactful senior centers in our region, receiving a historic $150,000 grant from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) towards care for local Holocaust survivors; and the prestigious Barra Award from the Barra Foundation in recognition of its innovative approach to social services and community-building.
“KleinLife emerged in a neighborhood with rapidly changing demographics,” says Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife. “We’re merging with it.” The center is now home to a community that’s both aging and increasingly multicultural: it contains the largest concentration of immigrants in Philly, with over 40 different countries represented. It’s also home to the majority of our local Holocaust survivors. Over 400 survivors are connected to KleinLife programs.
To provide first-rate services for a diverse community, KleinLife revamped its programming. To better serve KleinLife’s 6,500 older adults, the organization developed a sophisticated network of programs designed for people to maintain their independence, from nutrition and medical services to fitness and educational programs. To connect with new immigrant families, KleinLife opened a special Sunday Jewish program for children whose parents immigrated from the former Soviet Union and were disconnected from Judaism. The program has been a huge success, with 75 children currently involved.
Plenty of challenges still exist in connecting local immigrants to their Jewish faith. The Russian community in particular has successfully adapted to American society but not as well into their local Jewish community. KleinLife encourages them to explore its non-denominational services and to understand the concept of Jewish pride. “You don’t have to be Orthodox to be proud of Albert Einstein,” explains Andre. “And the children bring it home to say ‘We need to be proud of our roots. We need to be proud of what we are and what we do.’”
Many in KleinLife’s Russian community are also Holocaust survivors, who survived not only the war but also an anti-Semitic environment in the Soviet Union. The center already provides exemplary programs for survivors who sustained trauma as children and is introducing more programs to support Russian residents. The grant from JFNA will help provide for social workers and additional cultural programs that are more Russian-style, which Andrew finds meaningful: “I’ve always felt that we need to provide more services to the Holocaust survivors, because how many are left? The most important thing we can do is to make their lives more enjoyable.”
The Jewish Federation proudly supports KleinLife. To learn more about KleinLife, visit their website here.