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Risqué calendar aims to change Cummings Centre’s grey image

Martin C. Barry

December, 2009

Taking their cue from the hit comedy film Calendar Girls, volunteers at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors have decided to mark its 50th anniversary by issuing a commemorative calendar of their own with a special twist – the models are all au naturel.

But don’t get your hopes up too much. It’s all been done with the tastefulness of a photo session in the boudoir. (As it happens, one of the consultants on the project was a professional boudoir photographer.) And while there’s lots of exposed skin, just enough is deftly exposed so that the end result teases more than it reveals.

However, there should be no doubt about one thing: With this calendar the centre is out to change its “grey” image while at the same time trying to alter the preconception that seniors can’t engage in a bit of risqué fun, something that not long ago would have been considered taboo.

Calendar Girls was the true story of a group of British women who produced a nude calendar to raise money for a medical cause. The women hit upon the idea of printing a calendar featuring some of them posing nude while engaged in everyday activities, such as knitting and baking. In the movie, their project is greeted with initial skepticism, even though the calendar quickly sells out and the women become media celebrities.

About a year ago, a committee that was set up to examine ways to celebrate the Cummings Centre’s 50th birthday had been wondering out loud at its first meeting “how could we celebrate this anniversary and have fun at the same time?” executive-director Herb Finkelberg said. “So I remembered about the Calendar Girls. I suggested it and the committee loved it.”

Among its many supporters, the centre was fortunate to have two photographers – Rina Friedman, an amateur, and Morty Benedik, a retired professional – who volunteered their services. As for models willing to be photographed in their birthday suits, there were so many they had to start turning people away.

“It was not only not difficult to find volunteers to get involved, it was difficult to restrict them,” Finkelberg said. “Even as the calendar came out, I had people coming into my office saying, ‘Now remember, you said I could be in it next year.’ That’s the kind of response it got.”

Each month in the calendar shows different volunteers in the area of the centre where they work. Shots show the lobby, exercise areas, the course registration department, an art room, the woodworking shop and the cafeteria. Because of technical problems, the lobby photo had to be taken in two stages: the models were first photographed in a studio, and then their image was superimposed on a photo of the lobby.

Finkelberg maintains that the reaction to the calendar has been positive. “I think I was somewhat concerned as to how this was going to be received. Generally people call me not so much with compliments, they call me with concerns. But since the calendar’s release, it has, without a doubt, increased the excitement and the mood of the entire agency.”

Friedman, who photographs events at the centre, was faced with the challenge of making sure her subjects felt comfortable while fully exposed. She and Benedik worked out a method: “If it was a man, I would turn around or go out of the room,” she said. “He would set it up and then we’d shoot. If it was a woman, I would set up the shot.”

Pearl Grubert, past president of the centre who helps run its boutique, is featured with Gloria April in the calendar spread for February.

“When you get to be a senior, you lose a lot of inhibitions and so you say who cares?” she said. “Why can’t seniors have fun? Why can’t people see us as enjoying life?”

In their scene, the two stand behind the boutique’s counters scantily clad in little else but tissue paper, ribbon and large bows. The caption reads “We also gift-wrap.”

Also featured in the calendar is Gladi Gubitz, whose husband, Irving, chaired the calendar committee. “The buzz in the centre has been amazing,” she said. “It put a smile on people’s faces. They felt good about it. Here was something that was alive and kicking. From my perspective it rang a bell that seniors can have fun and have a laugh. That’s really what it was all about.”



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