Everyone who knows Carol Rosenberg (and that’s pretty much everyone in the Detroit Jewish community) knows that she is moved to tears easily, inspiring emotional responses in those around her. The Director of the Jewish Senior Life Foundation also breaks easily into song, glamming up an ordinary situation with glamour and her larger-than-life personality.
Detroit’s Jewish community could almost create a Carol Rosenberg version of the “Kevin Bacon game” – except it wouldn’t take the “six degrees of separation” to make the connection. One, maybe two.
Ask Carol what she wants to be known for and she falls silent, her voice wobbling with emotion. “I’m a teacher,” says the 74-year-old who will retire at year-end, handing the reins of JSL fundraising, marketing and communications to new Chief Development Officer Fran Victor.
Long before she began serving Jewish older adults, Carol taught liturgy, music, theater, English and speech at Camp Tamakwa, Camp Tamarack, Camp Nahelu as well as Temple Israel, Berkley Schools and at North Muskegon High School.
After the crushing loss of her father when she was 8, Carol got to work. “I had a baby brother, and that summer I put him in a red wagon and picked up the kids all around the neighborhood at 9 o’clock in the morning. And for $1.25 a day, I’d give them lunch, I had lesson plans, they had rest period. I did this at age 10, 11 and 12. This began to define me.”
This love of teaching and nurturing carried Carol through a career in education until she became the first program director at Jewish Home for the Aged. At the time, she was mother to Amy, 13, Matthew, 11, and Paul, 10. Later, she married David Elliston, gaining sons Douglas and Charlie (who died at 25).
“I’m very proud of my blended family,” says Carol, who is grandmother to seven, ranging in age from 6 to 13. She loves jewelry and shopping at the Royal Oak Flea Market, visits her brothers in California as often as she can. Every 10 years, Carol is crowned chairwoman of the Mumford High School Class of 1960 reunion, with Eleanor Aronovitz, where Carol communes with classmates like Rosie Schlussel (“She was our treasurer!”).
Carol has won numerous awards for her communal work, speaks around the country about older adults and annually dazzles crowds with her theatrics at the Oldest Jewish Americans Brunch. “I was Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Frauenthal Theater in Muskegon and, after I directed Fiddler on the Roof at the Howmet Theater (in Whitehall), I received a grant from the Michigan Council of the Arts to go into prisons to do theater with inmates.”
The theatrics are a way into people’s hearts – especially the older adults she has served so lovingly for nearly four decades. Follow Carol through the lobby at Fleischman Residence, and immediately you have insight into her longevity with JSL and her true connections to the community. She calls residents by name, greeting them with a hearty hello. And she remembers everyone and every detail of their lives.
“You’ve got to know where you come from to know where you’re going,” says Carol. “Older adults tell you where they came from. You hear what it was like in the old country, and you ask them what was the greatest thing they ever saw, and they’ll tell you the light bulb, instead of reading by candlelight, things you’ve always taken for granted.”
A Treasured Jewish Communal Leader
Carol learned to be a Jewish communal leader under the tutelage of Chuck Wolf, Cindy Schwartz and Margot Parr. She led the merger of the two Jewish older adult agencies (Jewish Home and Jewish Apartments) into one vibrant organization, Jewish Senior Life.
She was instrumental in creating dynamic programs that celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of older adults – 8 Over 80, Oldest Jewish Americans Brunch, the Senior Dream Cruise, the Alpern Life Enhancement Program, which brings animals and plants to senior residences, and more.
“The signature events for JSL show the community that older adults matter,” Carol says. “They have worth; they still have productive lives.”
Carol is also proud of bringing wellness centers to JSL residences, courtesy of a gift from the Farber family and a partnership with Henry Ford Health System.
Carol has worked hard for the Jewish community, which she describes as “generous.” She’s the one approaching donors to fund important initiatives for older adults.
“It was easy,” she says, “because I believe in the ask. I know what we really and truly need, and there’s not a lot of extra money for it. A community that does not take care of its elders is not a community at all.”
“I work 24/7 and I’m always available for the community,” she says. “I don’t know where my job ends and my volunteering begins. I can’t get enough of it if I love it.”
What’s next? “I’m going to Hollywood – the walk will do me good,” she laughs.
“I feel that it’s the right time. I am leaving Jewish Senior Life in very good hands with Nancy Siegel Heinrich and Fran Victor. Will I be heartbroken to leave my dear colleagues and my executive assistant that I’ve had for 18 years? Yes — it will be an adjustment. But it’s time.”
“It’s been a big life career,” she says. “And now it’s time for a new chapter.”
Lynne Golodner has had the great pleasure of working with Carol Rosenberg for the past five years, supporting Jewish Senior Life’s communications and marketing functions.