Who reading this blog is tired of turning on the news and getting further depressed by stories regarding COVID-19? I imagine this feeling applies to most people in the country right now. No matter how you get your news, I can’t imagine it’s boosting your spirits. Consequently, let me provide uplifting stories of how businesses, government officials and ordinary citizens are trying to make the lives of seniors during this crisis just a little easier.
Although most of the country is under stay at home orders, too many people still have to go grocery shopping. As most people are aware, seniors have to be extra cautious when dealing with the public because of COVID-19. Consequently, trips to the grocery store can be problematic. Fortunately, stores like Walmart, Stop and Shop, Safeway, Albertsons, Whole Foods and Costco have all instituted dedicated shopping hours exclusively for seniors and other high-risk shoppers (ie. pregnant women and people with immune deficiencies). Hopefully, these hours have made it easier for people to social distance and buy groceries and other necessities. Also, some stores, like Walmart, are putting restrictions on the number of products you can buy in the areas of paper products, food and cleaning supplies. However, reports indicate that the system is far from perfect, with seniors still reporting large crowds during their designated shopping times.
In Nevada, CNN reported of a group called “Shopping Angels” led by a Jayde Powell, a pre-med student, that takes care of grocery shopping for seniors and disabled people. This is critical for older Americans who just can’t make it outside to get life’s essentials. Furthermore, the group is coordinating fundraising efforts and working with local business to help those seniors that are financially limited. "We don't want money to be a deterrent," Powell explained to CNN. "If you cannot afford toilet paper or something like that, you're still to reach out to us." It’s also great to see this program catching on, with other people across the country offering to volunteer. Other older Americans, like my wife’s grandmother, have good Samaritans in their buildings knocking on seniors’ doors to see if they can do basic errands like grocery shopping, picking up medications and running to the post office.
In addition, in the beginning of 2020, Maryland started a free “Senior Call Check,” which has turned out to be particularly important given the COVID-19 crisis. The programs is a service for residents 65 years and older, which provides a daily check-in call to seniors and updates on the virus. If two calls are placed and not answered, the senior’s point of contact will be notified, and if that does not work, the authorities will conduct a welfare check. State Representative Ben Kramer, the sponsor of the program, would like to see it expand from a mere checkup to include information regarding the weather and senior scams. Kramer said, “So, this could give a notice that, 'Hey we want to give you the heads up, this impending storm is coming. You may want to make sure, if you're stuck in your home, that you've got enough food for several days, or your medications are filled to cover you for several days.”
B’nai B’rith, as a sponsor of affordable senior housing across the country is certainly no stranger to people helping their neighbors throughout the crisis. For example, at Strauss Manor in Tucson, Arizona, and Sam J. Stone Covenant Apartments in Peoria, Illinois, staff members, volunteers and residents are pulling together to make masks for people who live in the buildings and their caregivers. At B’nai B’rith House in Claymont, Delaware, Jewish Family Services (JFS) donated food boxes for the residents even before the crisis. However, with help from the United Way, JFS has started to include essentials for residents (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) so they don’t have to leave their homes. Naturally, these deliveries have been accomplished with social distancing in mind.
It’s always nice to hear stories about people going above and beyond, especially during times of crisis. Hopefully, the pandemic will recede soon, but in the meantime it’s nice to hear stories of communities rallying around each other for the betterment of everyone.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
The U.S. killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s subsequent mishandling of its Covid-19 response have left the country in political and economic disarray as its flailing regime gropes for answers.
Two years into a deep recession triggered by the return of U.S. sanctions, Iran is facing further economic struggles as the Coronavirus promises to shrink the country’s trade and slow its production and services. The death of Soleimani and his close advisors, meanwhile, has left a power vacuum in Iran’s military that has weakened Iran’s momentum in Iraq and in its other spheres of influence, such as Lebanon and Syria.
When Iran first began to exhibit an outbreak of the virus in late January, the regime responded with denials of the pandemic’s scope and predictable accusations that the U.S. both created the virus and attempted to spread it further through medication and equipment. Iran continued to encourage large religious gatherings, continued flights to China, and diverted funds and medical supplies that could have been used to contain the virus. With accurate numbers hard to gauge because of the regime's obfuscation, Iran to date has sustained at least 86,000 cases of Covid-19, more than China and more than any Middle Eastern country other than Turkey. A number of senior officials have tested positive for the virus and at least two members of parliament have died of it. To exacerbate matters, more than 300 Iranians have died after consuming methanol in response to a fake remedy that has spread across Iranian social media.
Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful figure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, had used brutal violence to repress civic movements in Iraq and Lebanon that threatened Iran’s grip on their legislatures. He had also used his security machinery to consolidate a land corridor through Syria and steer the course of the war in that country.
Iran’s recent antagonistic naval maneuvers around U.S. warships demonstrate a desire to project strength in the wake of the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani and his core power structure. Eleven Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) speed boats with mounted machine guns harassed American ships in the Persian Gulf. The IRG also launched its first ever space launch as part of a program that could hasten the country’s ballistic missile development. But without the onerous sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran, the regime would undoubtedly have poured tens of billions more dollars into military spending, as evidenced by the dramatic spike in their military budget in the years following the 2015 nuclear deal.
These crises have thrown into sharp relief some of Iran’s most habitual tendencies: seizing political opportunity rather than improving conditions for their own population; deferring to the religious establishment, including religious practices that ignore social distancing; and, invariably, propagating anti-Semitism. Iran’s health ministry this month sponsored a Coronavirus cartoon contest in which ghastly anti-Semitic illustrations figured prominently.
Meanwhile, the Iranian press has promoted reports claiming “Zionist” culpability for the virus. “Zionist elements developed a deadlier strain of Coronavirus against Iran,” state-run Press TV asserted last month. Of course, this did not stop Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi from conceding that Iranians would be permitted to use a Coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “the treatment is unique and there is no substitute.”
Prior to the eruption of the virus, protests swept the country in the wake of the IRG downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January. The following month, parliamentary elections devolved into chaos after the hardline Guardian Council barred thousands of moderates from running. As the crises in Iran mount, the country’s economic, political, and health security may continue to founder. Given the uncertainty of Iran’s future and the threat the regime poses to Middle East stability and Israel’s existence, much hangs in the balance.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
You’ve seen him in many guises: the Frankenstein monster, the Incredible Hulk, even as the heart-breaking protagonist of Diane Arbus’ photograph, Jewish Giant with his Parents in the Bronx. But even in his original guise, his dramatic, but very soulless persona, he just can’t be kept down. He is the Golem, whose name and brief and violent existence in the Prague ghetto continues to resonate in novels by authors including Elie Wiesel and I.B. Singer, poetry, plays, comics, operas, ballet and an early film classic whose imagery inspired several generations of those seeking to capture the monster’s persona.
Legends vary regarding the larger than life male creature, but one of the most prevalent attributes its creation to the 16th century by Rabbi Loew of Prague, a mystic who in at least one version of the folktale had the power to enervate inanimate clay by means of cabalistic rituals and prayers. Controlled by combinations of Hebrew letters imbued with magical powers, the super strong Golem could destroy any enemy and would be ready to do so in times of trouble. Incapable of thought, the Golem could only obey orders, that is, until it didn’t.
Now wonderfully restored with color added, the early German expressionist cinematic feature, The Golem (1920), directed by and starring Paul Wegener in the title role (which can now be viewed on YouTube) depicts Loew as a medieval sorcerer who not only violates God’s law by creating life, but does so by calling on the devil for his help. When he loses control over the Golem, the monster violently turns against the Jewish community, wreaking havoc. Characteristic of German films of this era, the use of stylized two-dimensional sets – the endless stairs and crumbling architecture of the nearly animate ancient ghetto – is what sets this movie apart.
An actor who worked for the great Jewish theater director Max Reinhardt, Wegener had become obsessed with the Golem legend in 1913 and had based several of his films on the story.
While thousands of graphic art aficionados are familiar with the many guises of the comic book Golem, his giant form packs the greatest wallop when it can be experienced in three dimensions. California-based artist Joshua Abarbanel created his first small-scale Golem in 2013 for a Los Angeles gallery show centered around sacred texts. The multi-media artist remembered that “I spent a lot of time thinking about the subject and experimenting with Hebrew letters for both their aesthetic forms and various word associations. Eventually the Golem story came to my mind, especially the version in which the Golem is ‘activated’ and ‘deactivated’ through the power of Hebrew letters.” In this work, Abarbanel fuses the Golem’s physical and metaphysical natures; his sculpture is constructed from a dense wooden latticework of calligraphy referencing its magical birth and unique mission.
The artist’s monumental, Golem-size version commissioned by Berlin’s Jewish Museum for its 2016 show devoted to the mythic creature will soon be on view again in the city of Worms, where it will be on display at Rashi House for SchUM on the Rhine – from Medieval Era Into Modernity, a city-wide celebration of the region’s Jewish heritage.
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
As incidents of antisemitism rise across the globe, the need for a vehicle to teach current and future Jews about this subject is needed more than ever. With Passover, we have such a teaching moment in the form of the seder.
The story of the Exodus from Egypt is well-known by Jews and non-Jews alike. We were slaves. We were punished. We won or earned our freedom. With the Seder, the story is digested with great food (yes, even matzah); we welcome Elijah; we sing and, of course, proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Months ago, I proposed a Seder of sorts that would remind us every year of the lies that foster antisemitism.
In our isolation this year, as we approach smaller, modified and Zoom-projected Seders, this is an opportunity to tell the story of antisemitism, not thousands of years of it exactly, but through at least 12 lies that represent that story. We can’t forget them and, sadly, neither can our enemies who recite them daily.
Amazingly, even in the face of this epic pandemic, Jews are blamed for the presence of the coronavirus. Actually and tragically, antisemitism is the pandemic that has endured for thousands of years. Perhaps those who perpetuate such lies should practice social distancing. Just as Moses told Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” we would urge Jew-haters, “Just leave us alone.”
So, let’s take note of these dozen lies as a part of the Exodus story. Feel free to share so this history is heard each and every year. Instead of “Dayenu,” proclaim simply “False.”
• Israel is an illegitimate state and Jews have no claim to the land. False. Artifacts and archaeology prove we’ve been there for 4,000 years.
• The Western Wall belongs to Muslims. Jews have no tie to it. Simply false.
• Zionism is racism. False.
• Israel seeks to be a colonial power. False.
• Settlements are the cause of violence in the so-called West Bank. False. A charter calling for the destruction of Israel is the cause of violence.
• Israel is an apartheid state. False. This is an insult to the institutional racism the world witnessed in Soweto and throughout South Africa.
• Israel keeps Palestinians in refugee camps. False. Palestinians keep Palestinians in refugee camps.
• The IDF operate like Nazi stormtroopers. False. Israel Defense Forces, with few exceptions, are known to defend Israel with great restraint.
• Israel targets innocents at Palestinian schools, hospitals and mosques. False. These sites are used to launch attacks through tunnels and to launch missiles.
• Israel is working to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque. False.
• Israel is to blame for the hopelessness that Palestinians feel. False in so many ways.
• And finally, Jesus was a Palestinian from Nazareth. False.
The Seder has told the story of slavery and freedom for thousands of years. It has been a vehicle for conveying similar willful acts against masses of Jews, from the Inquisition and the Holocaust to the refuseniks of the Soviet Union and beyond, often written into Seders as the fifth cup of wine.
So prophetic are the words in the Haggadah that we have come to understand that in every generation there are rulers who seek to destroy us. By definition, the Seder serves to tell this Exodus story. It is the event, beyond Yom Kippur, that is at the very core of our identity.
Thus, at a time when antisemitism manifests itself in so many different ways, we must ritually build it into an annual, timeless teaching moment.
Read Charles' expert analysis in the Jerusalem Post.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
I encouraged our leadership last week to call people in their B’nai B’rith circle, simply to find out how they were faring in the Land of the Quarantined. No, we were not asking for money. These calls were casual, “just checking in” phone calls. As a service organization with roots in people-to-people contact, this was a natural outreach for us.
I made 15 calls over barely two days. They were a chance to say, “Thank you,” “Happy Passover” and “Stay healthy.” One person in suburban Philadelphia was so pleased to receive the call that she volunteered to make calls. “We aren’t going anywhere and are looking for things to do,” she said.
One of the calls turned out to be the best kind of call one could hope to have. It was to a household in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The person I was calling was not in, but in the course of sharing my message, I quickly learned that I was speaking to Boris Moroz, 98, who said he was a lodge president in B’nai B’rith Canada in 1943. Yes, you read the year right.
Boris left his birthplace of Lodz, Poland, in 1935, and moved to Montreal one year before his bar mitzvah. He left behind “a lot” of family who perished in the camps. Eventually, Boris would become a homebuilder in Canada and continue in the construction business in Florida, and along the way he learned French, Hebrew and English to go along with his native Polish and German.
His lodge presidency as a young man in Canada (Mount Scopus Lodge) coincided with B’nai B’rith’s centennial. Wrap your mind around the fact that that was 76 years ago. This fact would make Boris as close to a lifer as anyone could be. Perhaps he’s the longest-ever member of B’nai B’rith International.
Boris remembers where he was when the United Nations voted on statehood for Israel. “I called a B’nai B’rith meeting to listen to the vote,” he recalled. “Of course, there was a time difference, but this was so important to us, so we stayed up for it. It was terrific.”
Other phone calls to people in the Land of the Quarantined yielded fascinating nuggets about our brothers and sisters. One person is writing a book; another person who I had heard was not feeling well said he was feeling “great.” He had just had a heart valve replacement.
So, these small “just checking in” phone calls took less than two hours to make over not even a two-day period. They delivered wonderful results. The value of such good will and chesed is, well, priceless. Let this time of quarantine be a time of connection among our B’nai B’rith family.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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