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Celebrating the last menorah lighting at Klein Jewish Community Center

Harold and Libby Yaffe, both 93, have been going to the Klein Jewish Community Center in Northeast Philadelphia since it opened in 1976.

Harold and Libby Yaffe, both 93, have been going to the Klein Jewish Community Center in Northeast Philadelphia since it opened in 1976.

"We felt the need to exercise and the need to socialize with more people," Libby Yaffe said.

They especially enjoyed the center's Hanukkah celebration.

"It brings life to older people, people who don't have any entertainment," Libby Yaffe said.

The Yaffes joined more than 100 seniors Wednesday for the center's holiday program and the lighting of the last candle.

The seniors filled the center's cafeteria before noon as they, along with the kindergarten students, recited a Hebrew blessing while lighting the candles on a large menorah at the front of the room.

Then the seniors began eating prepared lunches of chicken, applesauce, carrots, and a roll.

Guitarist Mark Levy played acoustic renditions of Judaic folk music. After a few minutes, some of the seniors got up and slowly started dancing to the sound of Levy's guitar. Before long, a dancing line formed and traversed the room for several minutes.

For many members, the center has become a lifeline putting them in touch with others, giving them a place to go.

"Our goal is to provide socialization and communal support," said one of its vice presidents, Raechel Hammer.

Lifelong Philadelphia resident Dorothy Caldr began going to the center after her husband died and she began feeling alone.

Caldr said she could not remember how many years she had been going to the center. "It makes you feel like you're home," she said.

The center's meal program is aimed at those who do not qualify for food stamps but need help making ends meet. They pay what they can afford.

Freda Abaluck, 85, went back to the center a few years ago for the first time since the death of her husband. Her son and daughter-in-law encouraged her to return.

"They wanted me to be with more people," Abaluck said.

Abaluck has vivid memories of growing up in one of the only Jewish families in West Oak Lane. She said neighbors sometimes threw stones at her and her siblings as they walked by.

"My mother told us, 'Just look straight ahead and go,' " she said.

She feels at home at the center, sitting at a table during Hanukkah with eight of her friends, old and new.

Some of the seniors who take meals at the center give back by volunteering.

For the last 22 years, the Yaffes have been organizing activities with other seniors, such as trips to museums and other sites around the city.

Their friend Anne Elansky, 92, has volunteered for the last 20 years preparing food.

"I work hard," she said. "At 92, it's a chore."

The kosher food she prepares is served at the center and is delivered by other volunteers to hundreds of seniors around Philadelphia.

The center's funding comes from contributions from members, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Corp. for Aging.

Members also have access to the center's other facilities, such as a basketball court, fitness center, and indoor track.

Besides serving Philadelphia's senior citizens, preschoolers, and kindergartners, the center also runs academic, athletic, and other programs for children and adults.