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Seniors fear uncertainty over center

Dozens of seniors joined local politicians last March in front of the Whitestone Hebrew Center to protest the threatened closing of The Jewish Association Services for the Aging center, which meets inside of the synagogue Mondays.

But this year there have been no protests even though the future of the senior center may not be secure.

Despite the fact that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget proposal calls for the closing of two senior centers and his worst-case contingency plan calls for the closing of an additional 13, the city has not revealed which centers are on the two lists.

A city source said the Whitestone center is not on the list of 13 but could not say whether or not it was one of the two centers expected to be cut regardless of whether the city is forced to rely on the contingency plan.

Theoni Angelopoulos, a spokeswoman for the city Department for the Aging, would not provide information on the lists. Chris Coffey, a spokesman for the mayor, was researching the matter and trying to locate the lists to meet the TimesLedger deadline.

The lack of information has left those at the JASA center anxious.

“No one knows,” said JoAnne Biswakarma, the director of the center. “It drives us insane.”

Last year Bloomberg’s preliminary budget called for the closing of seven senior centers across the city, including JASA in Whitestone. The cuts to all seven were restored in the final version of the budget.

In an attempt to bridge a massive $3.8 billion gap this year, the mayor has proposed shuttering two centers. The closings would come as part of an $8.2 million cut to the city Department for the Aging that also includes the elimination of take-home weekend meals for 7,500 seniors in the city, said Angelopoulos.

The mayor’s contingency plan, written in case the state does not pass the commuter tax, takes $18 million from the Department of the Aging, and relies upon the closing of 15 senior centers in total.

“I’m getting nervous,” said Rebecca Grossman, the president of the center.

Whitestone residents have called JASA a convenient place in the neighborhood to socialize Monday mornings.

“It’s a place to come to,” said Bernhard Eckert as he ate a Passover lunch Monday. “You have friends, talk, break up your loneliness. And you get a good meal, too.”

In the past, the city has recommended that seniors who are accustomed to getting a kosher lunch at the JASA senior center on Mondays visit Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center, which also serves kosher meals and is located about two miles away in Bayside. Some who attend the Whitestone center Monday go to Clearview on other days of the week.

Eckert said Clearview was often crowded.

“I wouldn’t go to Bayside,” Eckert said. “Too many people.”

Others, however, said they would not mind spending their Mondays at other centers.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Shirley Miller, who lives in Fresh Meadows. “I have a car.”

Grossman said many of the seniors at JASA could find other places to spend their time. But she emphasized that Mondays at the small center had become a highlight for the elderly.

“I would be able to go to another center,” she said. “But I like it here. It’s more like a close-knit family.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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