A new social network

Herb Heldman, standing, moderates the discussion at a JCC Men’s Club session. Photo by Jared Feldschreiber
Herb Heldman, standing, moderates the discussion at a JCC Men’s Club session. Photo by Jared Feldschreiber


The elder statesmen of the community gather regularly for the JCC Men’s Club, a combination of social networking and friendly, if animated, meetings.

Here, in Rockville, they find an inclusive environment.

“This is an eclectic, highly educated group,” Lew Cohen said. “They include government employees and doctors. In the early stages it was really about men talking about problems, and facilitating friendship. We’ve had a lot more political discussions.”

The group for retired men was the brainchild of Toby Gottesman, and it got its start in 2012. “To understand the club, you have to understand Toby Gottesman,”said Cohen. “He’s been a member of the JCC for 30 years, and he came up with the concept. He’s on the board of directors of the JCC. He was the original facilitator for the first two years and has since turned it over to Herb [Heldman].”


Cohen calls himself “the instigator” because he manages the roster and schedules, helps set up discussion topics and sends out reminders of upcoming events.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Heldman moderated a freewheeling meeting of more than two dozen men at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington involving seniors between the ages of 65 and 95. They discussed a variety of subjects, including counterterrorism, spying and the state of the world.

At one point, the talk turned to diplomacy, then self-defense. Ken Juris, a participant and a son of Holocaust survivors, recalled a time when his father knocked out three would-be muggers. It was a lesson, he said, for him to stand up for himself.

Religion, politics, marriage and divorce are all on the table for discussion — it depends of the group’s participants and their interests that day. Cohen said that the group also sometimes plays cards and holds birthday celebrations, cake included.

And participants also take trips in the region.

They’re planning to travel to Gettysburg in September to see the battlefield and learn about the rich Civil War history of the site. About 15 of the men previously visited Antietam, where the Civil War Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, was fought.

“Some of our guys were in the military. And when you get to be older, you start looking at history more,” said Cohen.

The group began meeting every Tuesday in March 2012. As the number of participants increased, a second weekly session was added on Wednesday.  Meetings are at the JCC except during the summer when they shift to the Federation.

The idea behind the gatherings is improve the overall lives of its participants. Participants are vibrant, and they keep up with current events, science, technology and more. Some have enjoyed great experiences in their respective careers, including the Foreign Service and medical fields.

Debbie Sokobin, the director of senior services at the JCC said, “We provide space, market their special programs, and even tap some of them as volunteers in other areas of the JCCGW. Gottesman has certainly left a legacy in our community with the JCC Men’s Club.”

In addition, she noted: “Studies show that socialization is one of the keys to healthy aging,” said Sokobin.

Cohen said that social networking has been an added benefit of the group.

Some participants have gotten together beyond the club sessions, for dinner or to work out in the Health and Fitness Center at the JCC.

Sokobin said that Gottesman “found a niche that was missing in the Jewish community. It was his concept. We built on it. He proposed the idea to my predecessor, Selma Sweetbaum, who retired about four years ago, and she embraced it wholeheartedly — never thinking it would grow into the huge entity that it has become.”

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