Making a difference in the lives of real people
By Jenn Director Knudsen
article created on:
Robison Jewish Health Center
Carol Friedman has thick, black hair shot through with streaks of silver. She wears a black cardigan sweater over a black, calf-length dress with silver threads that run throughout.
Her lace-up shoes are black; her square eyeglass frames are black. Her eyes, devoid of makeup, are slate.
But what Friedman loves to talk and read about, study in private and view when she gets the chance is art. Not sketches in pencil, or Impressionist works in blurry pastels.
Rather, Friedman returns again and again in a circular conversation to the topic of art—specifically, contemporary, pop and abstract art.
She likes the art of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dal?, and their exciting use of clean, bold, bright primary colors.
Among her favorites is Dal?'s "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" that she got to see years ago in person while visiting the Smithsonian's Mellon Gallery in Washington, D.C. And Friedman's monotone turns slightly staccato describing Warhol's famous pop-art renderings of Campbell's soup cans.
"He actually painted on the label, 'Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup,'" she said in disbelief.
Then, she sighed, "In the Robison Home there is no abstract art. I don't know why."
At 59, Friedman is one of the youngest residents of the Robison Jewish Health Center, where the oldest is 104 years of age and which can house up to 124 people with varying healthcare needs.
Friedman has several complex medical needs that can be managed only in a setting such as the Robison Home.
Prior to becoming an RJHC resident, Friedman said she lived with a roommate who brought her art books from the Multnomah County Library. But eventually she needed more care.
"I don't want to live here the rest of my life. But things are easier here," Friedman admitted. "I cannot live alone any more." She quickly added, "Most of the time I take care of myself. (But) they do cook for me."
Friedman's desires are many and understandable. She would like more privacy; residents' doors must be open nearly all the time. There is non-kosher food that she misses.
And she misses more intellectually stimulating conversations with people closer to her own age. She wishes community volunteers would simply sit with her to discuss current events and the arts.
Still, Friedman knows the RJHC is the best place for her. "I am happy here," she said in a recent interview in an exercise room adjacent to the solarium on Dan Hall at the nursing home.
She elaborated a little.
"First of all, because it's a Jewish place. The food is good here. I have to live at a Jewish place to feel comfortable."
Maintaining that comfortable Jewish environment costs money and not every resident can pay the full cost.
Medicaid covers only 60 percent of what it costs to maintain a resident at at RJHC.
The federation allocation to the home helps bridge the gap.
This year, federation gave more than $376,000 to the home, according to Laurie Rogoway, associate executive vice president and campaign director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
It is support that helps everyone at the home.
Decades ago, Friedman, who studied French at and earned a bachelor's in history from Portland State University, held down various jobs, some of which she's quite proud of.
She said she worked in government in Washington, D.C.; as a research assistant at PSU's Urban Studies Center and as an investigator for the Oregon Civil Rights Division.
For three years in the mid-1980s Friedman collected debts for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I felt so good collecting money for the federal government," she said, her eyes lighting up nearly as much as when describing a Warhol.
"That was my favorite job. I believe in taxes, you know; it was the closest I could get to working for the IRS."
Today, to help pass the time and feed her passion for the arts, Friedman, with the help of a volunteer from Congregation Beth Israel where she is a member and attends Friday night services, spends hours at the Portland Art Museum and recently viewed its new wing.
She also attends orchestra rehearsals at the MJCC and lectures across the street at the Rose Schnitzer Manor.
And, in the room she shares with an elderly woman, Friedman studies any art books she can get her hands on.
One title on her dresser is a Time-Life Library of Art book, "American Painting, 1900-1970."
"In abstract art, I can get the colors that I want," Friedman said, standing in the sparsely appointed room, devoid of any art, save for a faded oil painting someone once did for her.
"I like warm colors in my art. Yellows, golds, beige. The only cool color I like is powder blue."