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Raising funds to set the table; book tells local survivor’s story

Mendel Rosenberg

Mendel Rosenberg in 2014, when he was honored as one of the 2014 Ageless: Remarkable St. Louisans award winners. Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

On the table

The folks at the J’s Adult Day Center have an initiative on their plate that could use our help. They want to create a dignified dining experience for program participants by replacing the center’s chipped, institutional-looking dinnerware and be more environmentally friendly by reducing the use of Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils. 

To make this happen, they are asking our help in buying place settings, similar to what you might do as an engagement or wedding present.

“We found that our program participants actually ate 50 percent more food on plates that were sturdy, bright in color and had rims,” said Ashley Stockman, director of Adult Day at the J, who tested the plates and flatware she hopes to purchase with some of the participants. 

“It was much easier for them to grip the silverware, move the food on their plate, see the liquids in their cup and stay engaged through the whole meal,” she added.

Stockman has been researching this effort for a while. She found that proper dinnerware can assist in overcoming some of the cognitive, visual and motor skills that pose challenges for several Adult Day Center participants. 

The center serves more than 600 meals a week (31,000 annually) and prepares kosher meals on site. The hope is to raise enough money to purchase 150 table settings — 75 for dairy and 75 for meat.

Stockman has chosen cobalt blue Fiestaware dishes for meat and teal blue for dairy, largely because both colors are cheerful and calming. “Fiestaware also has a five-year warranty, so that’s a benefit, too,” she noted.

This is where we come in. One place setting, which includes a large and small plate, bowl and cup, requires a $25 donation. The levels continue to increase by $25; $200 would buy eight large and small plates, eight bowls and eight cups. Additional giving would allow the center to also purchase table covers, placemats, modified utensils, and other accouterments that would make the dining experience more festive.

“We’re hoping that with Passover coming, people might consider buying these place settings in honor of guests who have passed away or cannot make it to the seder table this year,” said Alice Ludmer, who is chair of the J’s Adult Services Committee. She, Stockman and the rest of the crew at the Adult Day Center are holding an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 7. They hope you come by, check out the facility and make a donation because, says Ludmer, “we all deserve to dine with dignity.”

A survivor and thriver

Like many Holocaust survivors, Mendel Rosenberg, now 90 years old, was not interested in discussing his experiences in concentrations camps in Poland and southern Germany. The Nazis had killed his father and brother. He and his mother barely made it out alive. The two arrived in the United States with the clothes on their backs and little money.

So for more than 30 years Rosenberg — who has lived in St. Louis since the early 1960s and started a successful business here — never talked about what he endured during the Holocaust. But he had nightmares about it; his wife, Sandy, would hear him cry out while he slept. Years later his children, Stuart and Renee, would hear his cries as well. But Sandy told them not to ask him about it.

Then in 1978, at the urging of a friend, Rosenberg spoke to a Shabbat class at Temple Israel, telling the children what had happened to him and his family. He found the kids to be quite responsive to his story. So he began to speak about it more, and not just to family members and Jews but to others in the community as well. He also sat down and did a number of oral histories for several organizations that document the Holocaust experience here and worldwide.

“But his experiences had never been written down,” explained Richard H. Weiss, who helped Rosenberg do just that in “Thriver: My Journey through Holocaust Nightmare to American Dream.”  The public is invited to receive a free copy of the book, thanks to Rosenberg’s friend Jerry Schlichter, and hear from the author and Weiss at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 31 at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, 12 Millstone Campus Drive. The event is free but RSVPs are necessary to Lory Cooper at 314-442-3711 or lcooper@jfed-stl.com.

“Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with Holocaust survivors but I was taken by how matter-of-fact Mendel was in recalling his experiences, given how horrific they were,” said Weiss. “Maybe that’s the way he insulates himself but that was striking to me. In his telling and being as understated as he is, it makes his story all the more powerful.” 

Brave, bold women

A new nonprofit called Bravely will present its inaugural awards at a noon luncheon at Patty Long’s Ninth Street Abbey in Soulard on Thursday, April 11. All proceeds from the event will support the organization’s residential program for women who have survived sexual exploitation such as prostitution and trafficking, abuse and addiction.

Joan Lipkin, community activist and artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company, is one of the four women being honored at the luncheon. She also happens to be Jewish. The others are journalist Aisha Sultan, of the Post-Dispatch; Christine McDonald, social justice advocate and a survivor of human trafficking; and Rev. Traci Blackmon, of the United Christ Church and a leader in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

For more information, visit www.bravely.org.