Suzan Wynne has lived at Riderwood Senior Living Community for nine years. She moved into her apartment when her husband was in poor health. After he died four years ago, she was unsure about whether should stay in the 2,400 community in Silver Spring. Now, she says she is glad she stayed. “I cannot imagine living anywhere else.”
Spread across 120 acres, Riderwood accepts adults “60 plus.” Soon after the community opened in 2000, its Jewish residents formed the Riderwood Jewish Community to provide activities and connection. There are about 470 members.
Wynne is co-president alongside her friend Amy Greenwood. “We looked at about 12 places when moving here, and from day one this felt like home,” says Greenwood.
Just by walking the halls, a visitor can see a Jewish presence. Many apartment door posts have mezuzot on them and a few of the residents wear kippot.
“One of the reasons why we have so many Jews is that people are moving to the area to be near their children, and if they are Jewish, this is the logical place to come,” says Wynne.
After 10 years, Sam Krantzow has lived in the community longer than most. Riderwood Jewish Community board members refer to the 99 year old as their “sukkah maven,” as he has been responsible for planning the community’s sukkah every year. “They yell at me when I climb the ladder now,” Krantzow shrugs.
Jews in Riderwood celebrate as a community at Passover seders, Rosh Hashanah dinners and Yom Kippur break the fasts — all with more than 200 people in attendance.
The community retains Rabbi Robert Goldstein and Cantorial Soloist Shari Feldman to lead services on the second and fourth Friday of every month.
“It is really amazing — even though we all come from different walks of Judaism, somehow they capture it all,” says Ann Klein, the group’s vice president. In addition to participating in services at Riderwood, many residents still maintain memberships with off-site synagogues, members say.
“We are not a congregation, we are a community,” says Barbara Yalisove, the new member welcoming committeewoman. Yalisove primarily moves around Riderwood on her mobility scooter, through a network of enclosed bridges.
“Some new residents tell me, ‘Well, I’m Jewish but I do not practice.’ Others say, ‘I am a cultural Jew,’ and others say, ‘Well, the only thing Jewish about me is that I like bagels and lox,’” Yalisove says. “And to them I say, ‘Well, you are a gastronomical Jew.’”
Some residents have found that they have reconnected with their Judaism after becoming a part of the community, Wynne says. “Even those who do not want to attend services or go to events join the RJC just so they can feel some sense of community,” says Greenwood.
“We also have a significant number of non-Jews [in the RJC],” says Sam Krantzow.
“For a lot of the non-Jewish residents here we are the first Jews they have ever met,” says Greenwood.
The residents host myriad events, many of them educational, and typically a quarter of those attending are not Jewish. “It is always a Jewish-themed program,” says Wynne, “Not ‘hit-over-your-head’ Jewish, but it is presented by the RJC”
Among the events and clubs available to community members are a Torah study group, a lay-led chavurah, a Yiddish group and a Hadassah group, as well as Sunday afternoon cultural and theater programs. Residents joke that if you cannot find an activity, the blame lies with you.
Members of the Jewish community describe its relationship with Riderwood’s administration as symbiotic. The Riderwood Jewish Community is administrated by residents, but works closely with the administration of the broader Riderwood Senior Living Center.
“The administration here recognizes the draw of a large Jewish population for potential residents and they have been very supportive of the RJC,” says Harriet Cobern. “In the past year, when we could not have any of our big gatherings [during the pandemic], the dining department initiated making sure that every Jewish household had a symbolic holiday treat — hamantashen for Purim, sufganiyot for Chanukah, apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah and a box of matzah for Passover.”
The administration also ran an on-site clinic and door-to-door vaccinations to minimize residents’ exposure to outside personnel.
Though COVID-19 remains a concern, life has begun to return to normal for residents. The Riderwood Jewish Congregation’s membership fell from 505 residents to 458 after the pandemic’s onset. Those numbers are slowly beginning to recover as former residents return and new residents join the community.
The group is ready to make up for what it missed during the pandemic. “One of the things we wanted to do this year for the first time was tashlich,” says Greenwood, referring to the casting-off ritual during Rosh Hashanah.
Says Wynne, “I am determined that we are going to do it next year.”