Our History

Centennial, Chron., First Residence

The first Hebrew Home, c. 1914

We have cared for the elderly in our community since 1910.  During these 100+ years, the frailty of those we serve, the size of our residences, and the scope of the services we provide all have increased dramatically. 

In 1910, Hymen Goldman, a 25-year-old salesman, encountered an elderly Jewish man weeping outside a grocery store.  Seated on a breadbox, the dejected man had become homeless following his wife's death.  Goldman discussed the man's plight with a group of civic-minded individuals who, concerned about the lack of care for the aged, formed a small organization and collected funds that were used to board the elderly gentleman in a widow's home for $3 a week. The Hebrew Home was born.

In 1914, as the number of elderly seeking shelter grew, Bernard Danzansky led fundraising efforts to acquire a brick row house at 415 M Street, NW. Ten residents lived on the second and third floors (there was no elevator). The main concern was to provide room, board, and a religious atmosphere.  In 1916, the organization incorporated, with a mission to "provide a home where food, clothing, shelter and be furnished free of charge to indigent aged persons of the Jewish faith."

In 1925, a new Hebrew Home for the Aged was built on Spring Road in Washington, DC.  President Calvin Coolidge, congressmen, senators, and local government officials attended the dedication ceremonies of the new nursing home on November 25. Residents enjoyed a large social hall, a library housing 4,000 volumes, daily and Yiddish newspapers, study classes and activities. Rabbi Maurice Maser was hired to administer the Home in 1926, and continued until 1962. The 35-bed facility became overcrowded, with residents sleeping in hallways and on porches, and in 1953, a new addition increased capacity to 165.   "Aunt Minnie" Goldsmith, a vibrant community leader, played a major role in the Home's development. A physician panel was established under the direction of Dr. Harold Hirsh to provide medical care to residents.

In 1964, a survey indicated a need for a new facility that could provide complete medical and nursing care.  Charles E. Smith, a leading developer and philanthropist in the Washington community, was instrumental in selecting the site and raising the funds that made it possible for the Hebrew Home, Jewish Social Service Agency, and Jewish Community Center to purchase land in Montgomery County, Maryland. At the time, the advisory board included, in addition to Mr. Smith, Leonard I. Abel, Lawrence Brandt, Samuel P. Cohen, Joseph B. Gildenhorn, Hymen Goldman, Myer C. Handleman, Dr. Harold Hirsh, Simon Hirshman, George Hurwitz, Herman Kozlow, Charles J. Pilzer, Arthur D. Schaffer, and Louis Zions.  Samuel Roberts, Executive Director for 24 years, led the Home through this pivotal period. Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew participated in the groundbreaking ceremony on a blistering hot afternoon in 1967. When these agencies moved to the Rockville campus in 1969, the Honorable Arthur J. Goldberg, Supreme Court Justice and former United Nations Ambassador, gave the opening address.

The DC National Guard and American Red Cross participated in the complex task of moving 172 senior citizens from Spring Road to the new Hebrew Home of Greater Washington. The Wasserman Residence contained 266 beds and an innovative shopping arcade.  The opening of our Smith-Kogod Residence in 1981 increased our capacity to 556 residents, and the Rakusin Rehabilitation Center in the Wasserman Residence made it possible to offer rehabilitation services to short-stay patients. 

The move to Rockville opened a new vista for expansion and the opportunity to become the eldercare provider we are today.  Our campus services have grown to include two apartment communities for independent living, Revitz House (opened in 1978) and Ring House (1989), and the Hirsh Health Center (1991). In 1995, short-stay rehabilitation and sub-acute care services opened, at the Rakusin Rehabilitation Center. Our most recent expansion is Landow House, an assisted living residence, which opened in January 2005. All services and residences are open to all in the community. 

In May 2006, in honor of the visionary leadership of the late Charles E. Smith and the generosity of the Charles E. Smith Family Foundation, our services were united under the name Charles E. Smith Life Communities.  More than 1,000 seniors are now making our campus their home, and about 1,000 more take advantage of our rehabilitation services each year. 

The years since 1910 have seen countless hours of commitment—both on the part of the Charles E. Smith Life Communities toward the elderly, and on the part of the Washington community in support of our system of care. Throughout the growth and expansion of our first century, one thing has not changed:  our commitment to care for the neediest of our elders with respect and dignity.  


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