Susette Rabinowitz was the key “mover and shaker” in introducing the concept of assisted living to the Rhode Island Jewish community and bringing The Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence (Tamarisk) to reality. Soon after the Jewish Home closed in the early 1990s, several prominent members of the Rhode Island Jewish community approached Susette for her assistance. Susette talked with Jewish Collaborative Services about those experiences and her life as a resident of Tamarisk.
In announcing Susette’s receipt of the 2015 Maurice Glicksman Leadership Award, James Galkin, now a JCS board member, said,
“Susette insisted that assisted living, coupled with a dementia component, was the only way to go. She strongly advised us, ‘Build an assisted living residence and you will position yourselves to compete successfully in a healthcare industry that is changing at warp speed.’”
“It’s such an honor for Roberta Ragge [Tamarisk’s executive director] and me to have Susette live here,” says Tamarisk’s Marketing Director Susan Adler, of Susette, a deeply treasured member of the Rhode Island Jewish community. “It’s a full-circle moment for both of us; she was our boss when she was the Jewish Seniors Agency’s executive director. We’ve gone from boss/employee to a true family relationship. It truly is a pleasure to have her here.”
JCS: Tell us about your early days and your family life?
SR: I was born in La Paz, Bolivia. My parents, who were German, were able to get out of Germany before the Nazis rose to prominence. My father left Germany for Spain in 1936 and my mother, who had left Germany in 1935 for New York, moved to Spain in 1937. After they met and married, they moved to South America, where my late brother, Bobby, and I were born. My father was also able to get his relatives out of Germany. Our family moved first to Fall River, Mass., in 1950. I was 9 and went to elementary school, though I didn’t speak a word of English. We later moved to Rhode Island, and my father went into business. I met my late husband, Warren, when we were in high school.
I have two sons and two granddaughters; I read daily, exercise and play bridge once a week.
JCS: How did you get involved in helping develop the concept of and then overseeing the design and construction of Tamarisk?
SR: Although I loved teaching, I never had the affinity for children that I have always had for seniors. I had worked for 20 years as executive director of the City of Cranston’s Senior Services, and I oversaw the building of the Feinstein Alzheimer’s Center, which is now called the Hope Center & Cranston Senior Services.
I was asked for my advice about what could be done after the Jewish Home closed; Jewish Rhode Island residents didn’t know what to do or where to go. I ended up meeting nearly every day for quite some time with several individuals including the late Dr. Stanley Aaronson, Maurice Glicksman and Pat Cohen, in addition to Jim Galkin, Barbara Sokoloff, Estelle Klemer and Ellis Waldman. I helped them focus on what direction they should take, and one focus was on building an assisted living residence. We also expanded the Jewish Seniors Agency’s JERI program. In my work at Cranston, we had built some facilities for seniors, so I was familiar with designing, permitting and building issues.
With land donated from Norman Fain (now deceased), we were able to design, build and open Tamarisk within 12 months.
JCS: You’ve been a resident here for about one year. Now that you live here, are there things you wish had been done differently in designing Tamarisk, which opened 16 years ago?
SR: I think about this often: How many people have the opportunity to be part of designing, overseeing construction and working in a building and then living there? Given the knowledge we had at the time, I think we did a terrific job. When we opened, we had a waiting list that was “three miles long!” We were the new kids on the block!
Most of the exercise programs are great. Our Friday night Shabbat services and celebrations of Jewish holidays are very nice. Tamarisk also provides rides to synagogues, for people who want to attend services there, too.
I never envisioned using Tamarisk for myself… not even a remote thought. When my husband died, I had to decide: Do I want to stay in Florida, where we’d lived for 14 years, where I have lots of friends but no family or return to Rhode Island where I do have a family?
JCS: What do you especially love about living at Tamarisk?
SR: The best part of Tamarisk for me is sitting right here [in the living room] and seeing the hubbub. I love that it’s being used by different groups. People are comfortable here and there are enough activities to keep people busy and engaged. I’ve also developed friendships with people I didn’t necessarily know before I moved here.
JCS: What do you want people to know about Tamarisk?
SR: It’s a nice way to age in place; many people want to age in place in their homes, but they become isolated. If you move into [Tamarisk], that isolation goes away. You are still free to go anywhere you want whenever you want… you can take Tamarisk’s transportation, a cab, Uber or someone can pick you up. You can do anything at Tamarisk that you can do at home – you can host events such as birthday parties, anniversaries, etc., in our community room.
JCS: You’re a vibrant, alert and engaged 78-year-old. Do you have any regrets?
SR: I have no regrets. I’ve had a wonderful life with a wonderful husband and fantastic sons and granddaughters. I started in a career that I liked and found myself in a career that I loved. I’m really lucky.
To learn more about Tamarisk, whether for yourself or for someone you love, please contact Susan Adler, Marketing Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 401.732.0037.