It’s a familiar arc: A Jewish community is attacked or threatened by anti-Semites, after which recriminations and regrets are publicly aired and the Jewish world wonders what could have been done differently to ensure Jewish safety.
And then there is Gothenberg.
This Saturday—not coincidentally Yom Kippur—the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) will march through the coastal town of Gothenberg, Sweden, spreading its anti-Semitic hatred on the holiest day of the Jewish year. During the Holocaust, it was customary for the Nazis to carry out atrocities on days important to the Jewish calendar. The added benefit to the NRM of holding its hate march on Yom Kippur is that it is the day when even Jews who rarely worship are likely to attend synagogue.
Gothenberg authorities have already changed the NRM’s planned route to avoid proximity to the town’s synagogue, prompting 60 Nazi supporters to demonstrate in the city center on Sept. 17. The protesters railed against immigration and knocked down a woman who confronted them about their message. A spokesman for the NRM subsequently said that the group might choose to ignore orders to change the route of the march.
The NRM’s history of violence and intimidation suggests that whether Saturday’s march passes immediately by the synagogue or not, the threat posed to the Jewish community is real. The group openly espouses anti-Semitism and racism and has spoken admiringly about Adolph Hitler. Group members have advocated for mass deportation of refugees and immigrants. This summer a Gothenberg court sentenced three men with ties to the movement for carrying out bomb attacks on refugee shelters.
The presence of a majority of the city’s Jews in the center of town this Saturday increases the likelihood that they will become targets of the NRM’s hostility. It is also probable that some Jews, fearing for their safety, will opt not to attend Yom Kippur services this year.
American Jews are still reeling from the experience of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month that led to one death and 19 injuries. Some of the marchers stood in front of the local synagogue with guns, forcing worshipers to leave through the back door. Hate mongers carrying flags and posters bearing swastikas shouted “Heil Hitler” and “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. Will Gothenberg become another Charlottesville? Only Swedish authorities can ensure this does not happen.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, B’nai B’rith has urged the Swedish government to stop the Nazi march from occurring on Yom Kippur. This is not a matter of suppressing free speech. The city of Gothenberg has maintained it’s powerlessness to stop the event from taking place. But what about the government’s obligation to maintain public order and protect its citizens from threats and intimidation by hate groups? At the very least, the march could take place on a different day, when violent attacks are less likely to result.
It’s often said that hindsight is 20-20. But there is something to be said for keen foresight, as well. Sweden’s neo-Nazis are preparing to descend on Gothenberg this Saturday, as the town’s Jewish community braces itself for what is supposed to be a day of introspection and atonement but figures instead to be one of fear and dread, perhaps violence as well.
To Swedish authorities, the message should be clear: Don’t let it happen. Protect your citizens. Ensure public safety. Don’t make the day after Yom Kippur one on which the world asks, “How could this have been avoided?”
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 Fusfield.
Have you ever heard a person say, “I am more likely to see a UFO than receive my social security benefits?”
Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) during a Republican presidential debate last year stated, “Now there are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check."
Clearly there is a perception amongst some Americans that receiving Social Security benefits are anything but a sure thing. Given some individual’s bleak outlook for the Social Security program; do the program’s fiscal projections match people’s anxiety?
Recently the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report was released, which outlines the financial solvency of the Trust Funds (Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI)) over a 75 year period. According to the Trustees report if Congress doesn’t take action, the trust funds will see a short fall in 2034, leaving enough funding for Social Security to pay about 77 percent of its obligations using only income tax revenue. Additionally, by 2092, the percentage of commitments Social Security will be able to meet would decrease slightly to 73 percent.
The financial projections for the Trustees Report provide concrete evidence for the long-term viability and success of Social Security. I think people of all political backgrounds can agree that a federal program that projects at worst to meet about 75 percent of its obligations until 2092 is not going broke! However, despite a promising future, Social Security projecting a 25 percent short fall for future commitments is still unacceptable. Consequently, what steps can Congress take to ensure that all retirees receive 100 percent of their earned benefits?
Politicians have proposed various policies to ensure the program can meet all of its obligations such as privatization, raising the age for eligibility and increasing the Social Security payroll tax cap. While all these ideas could potentially stave off a short fall, only increasing the cap on the payroll tax will guarantee seniors receive their earned benefits at the appropriate age. The other ideas will risk retirement income to stock market instability or force older Americans to work longer, which would be particularly unfair to seniors who work labor intensive jobs.
Social Security revenue is primarily derived from the Social Security payroll tax from workers and employers up to the annual limit ($127,000 in 2017). Therefore, every dollar someone earns over $127,000 in 2017 is not subject to tax. In 1977, the last time Congress adjusted the cap, the cap covered 90 percent of all wages. Unfortunately, between 1984 and 2015, the percentage of taxable earnings fell from 88.6 percent to 82.6 percent. Social Security could easily be more solvent by increasing the percentage of our country’s income subject to the tax. In February, the Social Security Administration (SSA) declared that taxing income above $250,000, accompanied by other modest changes could make the program solvent to 2078.
Millions of Americans rely on Social Security as their only source of income and the program every year helps keep fifteen million seniors out of poverty. While the achievements of Social Security cannot be disputed, more still needs to be done to safeguard the program’s continued success. Modest changes to the social security tax cap can ensure that every American believes that their earned benefits are a guarantee.
By Breana Clark
Achieving greater recognition of the needs of our homeless population has become an undeterred focus of mine. Professionally, I am connected to the residents who call B’nai B’rith sponsored, low-income senior housing home, and through volunteering with a local United Methodist Church, I help address local homelessness in the District of Columbia. Through these organizations, I have witnessed a devastating national trend: the apparent aging of our nation’s homeless population.
On the surface, the current proportion of homeless individuals who are seniors represents a failure of our society to take care of our oldest citizens. Though, it is also an expensive problem to ignore. An older person who has not yet reached “retirement age” (those ages 50-64) represents a group which frequently falls between safety nets that are age based. Programs that are meant to intercept the part of our population that, generally speaking, are cycling off the workforce are generally reserved for those who have reached the magical age of 65 (or 62 for subsidized senior housing). Thus, many folks who have lost jobs, lost income or who do not have enough savings, find themselves stuck between the gap, and enter their “senior years” having expensive untreated conditions and deteriorating health.
It should come at no surprise that navigating the conditions of living on the street or experiencing insecure housing (this includes nighttime shelters, a couch at a friend or relative’s home, or frequent relocation because of unreliable conditions) exacerbates physical and/or mental health conditions, poor nutrition and untreated chronic illness. It’s imperative to point this out, as we see that health care needs by those aged 50-64 who lack housing are awfully similar to housed individuals 65 and older. Premature aging and shortened life expectancies are inevitable when one lacks the basic of human necessities in order to survive.
Simply put, seniors have the steepest housing challenge. This should come at no surprise if we look at increasing poverty amongst retirees as well as the decreasing availability of affordable housing. In fact, more than four million people above the age of 65 live in poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those individuals, only 1.6 million receive rental subsidies from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
About 10,000 people turn 65 every day in U.S. Based on demographics alone, Justice in Aging, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty, estimates that this will result in nearly 93,000 homeless seniors, doubling the 44,000 in 2010. This number becomes even more significant when economic factors are taken into consideration. While many may hold a stereotyped version of who is included among our homeless and home insecure, it’s important to remember a myriad of economic occurrences that have proven to be especially burdensome in the last decade: the Great Recession, mortgage debt accumulation following the housing crisis, wage stagnation, skyrocketing underemployment, the rising cost of medication and goods and the increasing lack of affordable housing.
Furthermore, in light of recent natural disasters having required evacuation, hunkering down and taking shelter, we have witnessed how quickly circumstances can change for someone depending on their very meager earnings or assets to survive. The recent tragedy of several seniors dying at a Florida nursing home that found itself in the wake of Hurricane Irma illustrates a true reminder that we need to be able to provide safe, quality care and housing for seniors regardless of whether they can live independently or not.
In my capacity as a volunteer, with a mission to serve our homeless in Washington, D.C., I’ve learned a lot about the unique needs of those in our community who lack housing. What has become obvious is the need to address the significant number of folks who have reached their older years but lack housing, health care and an income that can support their basic needs. We are living in a time where our lack of commitment to seniors’ well being, as they age, is not just appalling; the circumstances are dire. Every day, seniors die from a lack of resources in a country that saw economic, social and political progress as a result of their contributions.
If Congress and the current administration want a society that is great, it has to start simple: we must prioritize health and housing for ourselves and our neighbors as we age. We must strive for a society that does not allow housing insecurity and plummeting health to be inevitable part of aging into poverty. We must commit to taking care of the oldest among us.
By Adriana Camisar
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Argentina yesterday after a very successful visit.
The visit was historical because it was the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister visited the country. The trip also showed the great shift of Argentina’s foreign policy since President Mauricio Macri’s inauguration.
During the previous government, the bilateral relationship with the State of Israel had deteriorated considerably, given the close relationship between the government of former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Iranian regime. Indeed, the Argentine government and Iran signed the shameful Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which sought to withdraw the investigation of the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building bombing from Argentina's jurisdiction, and to grant "investigative" powers to the Iranians.
In fact, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who had conducted the AMIA investigation for 10 years, was found dead, under very suspicious circumstances, after denouncing that the president and her officials had negotiated the agreement with Iran in order to get impunity for the accused Iranians. Today, Kirchner is being tried for treason by virtue of Nisman’s complaint.
The rapprochement with Israel is the clearest evidence of the desire of the current Argentine government to distance itself from dictatorial regimes like Iran, Syria and Venezuela and to get closer to Western democracies and the free world.
The Jewish community in Argentina is the largest in South America and the 6th largest in the world, and, undoubtedly, for the majority of Argentine Jews it is a source of great joy to witness the warm reception that Netanyahu received in the country and to see the flags of the two nations displayed together, after so long.
The opportunities for cooperation between the two countries are enormous in the areas of innovation and technology, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, health and education. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a very fruitful relationship.
In addition to Argentina, Netanyahu is also visiting Mexico and Colombia, before heading to New York to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
In addition to strengthening ties with these Latin American countries, Israel is certainly seeking to confront Iran’s infiltration in the region, which took place in the last few years, particularly with the help of Venezuela, and to gain greater support from Latin American countries at the United Nations, where Israel has historically been unfairly treated. Hopefully, this renewed friendship with the nations of the region will indeed be reflected at the U.N. and other multilateral forums.
By Evan Carmen
We were very pleased to welcome Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) recently to B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pa. Dent has been an influential member of Congress since January 2005, and presently serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. This committee is responsible for appropriating money for the Section 202 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing program. B’nai B’rith is a proud sponsor of Section 202 HUD housing, was excited to show Dent all the great residents, staff and amenities in the building.
B’nai B’rith’s long history with Section 202 housing started in 1971 when we formed a partnership with HUD to sponsor housing for low-income seniors. The B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network in the United States comprises 38 buildings and serves more than 8,000 people. B’nai B’rith International is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income housing for seniors in the country.
When Dent arrived he was treated to a tour of the building which featured an apartment unit, patio, common area, computer room and arts and crafts room. The tour allowed the representative to see all the building’s wonderful amenities and how Section 202 properties provide a community and family atmosphere for seniors. After the tour Dent spoke with about 90 B’nai B’rith residents regarding Section 202 rental subsidies, social security and health care. This Q-and-A allowed residents to directly tell the congressman how these federal programs affect their daily lives and for the congressman to share his perspective on important issues that impact seniors.
After the event Dent said, "I truly appreciate the great work B'nai B'rith has been doing here in Allentown, Pa. for decades. B'nai B'rith provides affordable housing options to many seniors they very much like it here so we are blessed to have this organization in the community. And we want to continue to support organizations like B'nai B'rith and other who providing affordable housing in 202 for so many seniors and elders across the country."
In attendance from the B’nai B’rith Housing community were B’nai B’rith International Associate Director of the Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten; B’nai B’rith Assistant Director for Aging Policy Evan Carmen; B’nai B’rith Senior Program Associate Breana Clark; as well as B’nai B’rith Apartments staff including Board President Barbra Butz; Project Administrator Bob Sipos; Property Management Assistant Kathy Andreas Heath; Service Coordinator Jennifer Leffler; Rental Assistant Jessica Yaich and Recertification Specialist Beth Gonzalez.
During the past few months we are happy to report that Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) have visited B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings in their districts. These congressional visits have given representatives firsthand exposure to the critical importance Section 202 buildings play in the lives of low-income seniors. Hopefully members of Congress leave Section 202 buildings with the understanding that they are not just a pile of bricks sitting on concrete—they are buildings that provide a safe and secure community for seniors, and more importantly a place for older Americans to call home.
By Rachel Knopp
On the 13th anniversary of B’nai B’rith’s Resident Leadership Retreat, 28 seniors joined together at Perlman Camp in Lake Como, Pa. with the intent to bring a greater sense of community back to their homes. These representatives came from the 38 low-income senior housing facilities from across the country that B’nai B’rith proudly supports.
As the largest national Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly in the United States, B’nai B’rith has become a key advocate for low-income seniors on Capitol Hill. However, experiences like the Resident Leadership Retreat remind us that our residents are their own best advocates for their communities.
Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, reminds us of the importance of our resident leaders. “Unlike staff and the board of directors who go home at the end of the day, our residents call these facilities home at the beginning and end of each day. The goal is to help create a sense of community among the residents.”
The safety, security, and peace of mind that B’nai B’rith buildings have brought to residents lives were frequent topics of discussion between attendees. One resident from the B’nai B’rith building in Tucson, Ariz. said that finding his current building brought him out of homelessness. Many others shared in the sentiment including Bobbie Rudolph, from B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pa., “I no longer have to worry about being evicted, due to not being able to pay my rent. The B’nai B’rith and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Supporting Housing for the Elderly Program allows seniors to retire and live with dignity.
With this in mind, it becomes clear why the resident leaders are so invested in strengthening their communities. Some representatives are long-standing officers of their building’s Resident Council, while others are self-proclaimed activists who demonstrated leadership by starting a recycling bin, like Liam Flanagan who lives in Covenant House, which is located in Brighton, Mass. Despite the range of displays in leadership, each representative arrived to Camp Perlman with an open mind to learn from one another.
Diane Daria, also from Covenant House, regards her building as providing a “built-in community.” Many of the seniors in B’nai B’rith housing facilities have lived alone for many years, like Daria. Before moving into her building, she lived by herself in a little bungalow located in the suburbs of Massachusetts. Now, Daria has the opportunity to connect with the over 250 residents that also call Covenant House home.
Still, Daria recognizes her responsibility to foster community. In addition to taking Russian and cultural classes to connect with her neighbors, she is an impassioned member of the newly-formed Residents Council. Throughout the retreat, Daria connected with other resident leaders to brainstorm ways to engage more residents.
During the day that focused on diversity, the group suggested ways to have more inclusive programming so that they can cultivate a community of acceptance within their buildings. While many buildings offer English as a second language classes, the group felt native-English speakers would benefit from Spanish or Russian as a second language classes as well. One resident, Jerry Fiman, of Covenant Place in St. Louis, shared his initiative to have a representative from each of the distinct cultural groups of his building acting as active members of the Residents Council.
The spirit of open-mindedness was exemplified that same night during a Havdalah ceremony to conclude the celebration of Shabbat. Most of the resident leaders are not Jewish, yet they approached the HaMotzi blessing that preceded each meal with respect and curiosity. Each resident leader placed their hands around the flame of the Havdalah candle, following a considerate discussion of interfaith values that morning. The culture of acceptance that was felt throughout the retreat is undoubtedly an integral part of their communities back home.
When the Resident Leadership Retreat concluded its week of living and learning, many expressed the instilled sense of confidence that the retreat provided. Helen Jordan from Pasadena, Texas expressed how the retreat not only fortified the beliefs she already had, but the curriculum gave her a means to implement them. A key component of the retreat was to harness this feeling of empowerment so that residents can serve as advocates once they return.
The retreat included an advocacy session led by Evan Carmen, B’nai B’rith assistant director for Aging Policy: “The goal of the advocacy session is to educate B'nai B'rith Housing Network residents on the best ways they can engage with their elected representatives; this way their members of Congress are aware of the issues which are important to them.”
One of the attendees, Martha Boyle, has confirmed a meeting with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) Boyle plans to discuss with him about rental subsidies as it relates to affordable housing for seniors.
For many of the resident leaders, a week at a sleep away camp tucked away in the Poconos Mountains provided an escape from their regular routine. For most low-income residents, a week of vacation has been an unavailable luxury to them for years. For others, the space to learn in a classroom environment was a reminiscent change, found to be invigorating.
From my perspective as a member of a younger generation, I am inspired by the commitment to learn and make a difference that I see in the generation before me. The leaders who I grew to regard as friends are the same leaders who pushed forward for the social changes I enjoy today. Since then, they have not quit moving and shaking. I regard the B’nai B’rith facilities across the country as a new ground for these leaders to make their mark.
Rachel Knopp is a student at The George Washington University studying International Affairs and Conflict Resolution. She is an Intern at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy in Washington, D.C. In the spring of 2017, she studied Anthropology and Spanish in Cusco, Perú. Prior to interning at B’nai B’rith, she interned at The Israeli Embassy to the United States and the Israeli Mission to the United Nations
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