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With Some Help, South Philly Mom Finds Her Way Back Home

July 5, 2012 By:
Daniella Slon, Jewish Federation Feature
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Barbara Gogel (left) of New York performed a mitzvah, helping her mom, Sarah Katuran, reconnect with her former friends from South Philadelphia.

Sarah Katuran is a sprightly 95-year-old woman with a smile that radiates. She gets around with the aid of a walker, uses an amplifier to improve her hearing and suffers from macular degeneration, making reading difficult. However, despite such challenges, Sarah made the trip to Center City Philadelphia on a recent Friday morning for a special reunion, and her excitement was palpable.

Katuran was born and raised in South Philadelphia and continued to call it home through marriage, children and retirement. Ten years ago, she became an active member of the now-closed Stiffel Jewish Community Center. She went there daily to write and paint and to socialize with other seniors.

Four years ago, she took a nasty fall and was hospitalized. She recuperated in a rehab facility and, with no family around to care for her, was compelled to move to an assisted-living facility.

Sarah was determined to regain her strength and, one year ago, moved into an independent- living facility in Chester where she maintains her own apartment, cooks for herself and does her own laundry.

But one thing was missing in her life: her Stiffel friends.

Sarah's daughter Barbara Gogel, who lives in New York, began to investigate how she could help her mother reconnect with her old friends. She discovered that the Stiffel Center had closed its doors in 2011; but many emails and phone calls later, she discovered that, thanks to a new partnership among the Klein JCC, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, approximately 70 "Stiffel seniors" were now congregating every Friday for the Center City Lunch Program at the Jewish Community Services Building. Participants enjoy a catered lunch, exercise, Jewish holiday programming, health care screenings, music, dance, exercise and other activities.

Gogel shared this wealth of information with her mother, and on Friday, June 29, the daughter drove down from New York to Chester to transport her mother to the program.

Katuran received a hearty welcome from all her South Philadelphia friends who were overjoyed to see her. Senior after senior came up to hug her and reconnect. Katuran managed to catch up on all the South Philadelphia news.

As her daughter said, her eyes filling with tears, "This is probably the happiest moment in my mother's life! This turned out to be a more special day than I could ever have anticipated. Life is always good when you are with old friends who you've known for years and years."

Asked how she felt about her morning, Katuran exclaimed with a huge smile on her face, "I will be back!"

The conversation was cut short as two friends grabbed her and led her into a circle of seniors dancing joyously to "Haveinu Shalom Aleichem."

"It's the first time she's danced in four years," said her daughter, looking on. "What a wonderful day it's been!"

The Center City Lunch Program at the Jewish Community Services Building, 2100 Arch St., Philadelphia, is open to senior adults from South Philadelphia and Center City. For information about upcoming programs or to volunteer, call Lynne Ellis, program coordinator, at 215-832-0539 or Judy Woloff at 215-832-0540.

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