This article originally appeared in the B'nai B'rith Magazine winter 2018 issue. To read the issue, click this link.
B’nai B’rith has long recognized the need for safe, affordable housing for low-income seniors: a place where residents have their own apartments and live independently, while also sometimes sharing communal prepared meals in a group dining room.
Since 1971, B’nai B’rith has been a leader in this field. We have applied the knowledge we have gleaned from our senior housing efforts to the legislative arena, keeping regular oversight on legislation that may affect the elderly in the United States and around the world.
With 38 buildings in 28 communities, B’nai B’rith is the largest national Jewish sponsor of federally assisted senior housing in the United States. We also sponsor six buildings in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver; as well as “flatlets” in London and throughout the United Kingdom and Australia. B’nai B’rith’s first “parents” home opened in 1958, and is located in Haifa, Israel.
With seniors lucky enough to be housed in such apartments throughout the country, we find ourselves in the midst of an escalating affordable housing crisis. Millions of low-income persons are paying 70 percent or more of their incomes for shelter, while rents continue to rise and the construction of “affordable” rental apartments lags far behind the need. In 2011, B’nai B’rith opened the most recent of its senior housing properties funded through the federal Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly, the last dedicated “seniors” program administered and overseen in Washington, D.C.
Today, the program most available to provide funding for new construction, and, even more importantly, for the renovation and preservation of older units is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Administered by the Internal Revenue Service. This program makes federal tax credits available to the private sector to encourage investments in affordable housing. Established in 1986, it has assisted in the creation and preservation of about 3 million apartments nationwide.
To date, the B’nai B’rith senior housing network has successfully benefited from the tax credit in St. Louis, for instance, where the Covenant Place apartment complex used the program to fund more than 35 percent of the total cost of renovating the property. The rest of the funds came from a major community capital campaign. The Coolidge at Sudbury apartments, in a Boston suburb, used tax credit financing as the major funding source for the new development.
Additionally, we are pleased to report that this past April, B’nai B’rith Senior Housing closed on a major refinancing proposal to renovate and modernize the Adelstein Family B’nai B’rith Project H.O.P.E. property in the Bronx, New York. The building was constructed in 1992 under the federal government’s Supportive Housing for the Elderly program. It consists of 100 residential apartments, 25 of them studios, and one unit for a live-in building superintendent. Rent for each residential unit is subsidized under the federal Section 8 Housing Assistance Contract program. New York State-issued bonds, coupled with the federal tax credits, raised the money to renovate the property.
The original Bronx project came about like many in the B’nai B’rith housing portfolio. It was 1979 when the vision of B’nai B’rith member Bernard Adelstein began to take shape. He foresaw a 100-unit development providing quality, safe and secure accommodations for seniors and disabled low-income citizens. But, it took 10 years for the vision to become a reality. Then, for 30 years, the property was a crown jewel of the community. But, as time went on, the building’s residents aged; some required more services to live independently, while others moved to more institutional settings — or died — and were replaced with new residents. Adelstein, who was most instrumental in initial building efforts, passed away in 2002, and many of the original board members retired from the property or passed on.
Adelstein’s sons Marty and Alan and daughter Sherry remained on the board. But improvements were needed, and financial resources were limited.
To best meet the continuing challenge of providing housing for low-income seniors, the Adelsteins met with officials of B’nai B’rith Senior Housing who introduced them to a developer familiar with the tax credit program. A new corporation, in which B’nai B’rith and the developer play leading roles, now oversees the project.
Not only does the new management intend to preserve the existing building for the next generation, it also plans to provide the financial resources for supportive and social services for the residents. Through partnerships with local organizations, for the first time, residents will have access to community resources, supportive listening and casework services and a host of new classes, workshops, events and regular activities.
With construction well underway, residents expect to see a completely renovated building by the end of the calendar year. During the work, residents have temporarily moved into other units within the complex, so there has been no displacement.
Apartments will include new bathrooms with new toilets and bath tubs; new kitchen cabinets, counters and appliances; and all new lighting and painting throughout. Exterior and common area renovations will include new masonry, replacement of exterior doors, new elevators, safety windows, plumbing infrastructure, boilers and pumps. It will also see the addition of smoke detectors and sprinklers and electrical and security upgrades.
Overall, the developer intends to complete $8.7 million of building renovations, at approximately $87,000 per apartment, at no additional cost to tenants. Additionally, all residents will now be supplied with window air conditioners. Previously, they had to provide their own units.
According to Marty Adelstein, president of the project’s original development corporation, “Everything seems to be going quite smoothly. Residents are very excited to see the transformation of their homes taking place before their very eyes and are looking forward to be living in a virtually brand-new building. We are truly grateful for the support and partnership provided by B’nai B’rith in helping to make this transformation possible…”
Further, discussions are currently underway with the developer and the city about acquiring an abutting three-acre lot for 1,000 more units of senior and veteran housing.
If you’d like to see B’nai B’rith senior housing in your community, contact the B’nai B’rith senior housing office in Washington at email@example.com.
Recently renovated apartments at the Adelstein Family B’nai B’rith Project H.O.P.E. apartments in the Bronx, New York are decorated by the residents with items that reflect their tastes and interests. Photo credit: Courtesy of FHRC Management staff and EH&N Construction staff.
Mark D. Olshan, who holds a doctorate in psychology, is Associate Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International and Director of the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services.
Within the last few weeks, we’ve been able to once again witness the fecklessness and hypocrisy that is endemic when it comes to the U.N. and terrorism against Israelis. Hamas and Hezbollah—two of the most menacing terrorist groups bent on attacking Israelis—have found themselves on the defensive at the U.N.
This in itself is rare. Hamas, for instance, is usually omitted entirely from U.N. resolutions and reports. The U.N. often ignores Palestinian terrorism, but when it feels obligated to at least minimally address the key factor in the conflict, it is adept at condemning “both sides.” The resolutions will feign balance, but then harshly attack Israel, while the terrorists that Israel is defending itself against are generalized as “militants” or “the Palestinian side” and given little attention.
This despite the fact that Hamas has brutally ruled over Gaza for more than a decade in which residents of nearby Israeli communities have had to live with rocket attacks. Prior to the rocket attacks, Hamas’s tactic of choice was suicide bombings, first in an open attempt to derail the peace process in the 1990s. For a world body so obsessed with lecturing Israel about the lack of progress on negotiations (even though the blame, as always, lies with the Palestinian leadership’s disinterest in compromise), the silence about such a radically anti-peace organization is quite telling.
The U.N. was given a chance to begin to right this wrong when the U.S., led by Ambassador Nikki Haley, introduced text at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) specifically condemning Hamas for various activities that put Israeli and Palestinian lives in peril. This move panicked those hostile to Israel. Hamas sent letters to U.N. member states seeking to justify their terrorist activities. The Palestinian Authority—whose leadership knows first-hand what a danger Hamas is in the region—worked with their allies to try to sink the resolution.
First, Bolivia introduced an amendment with poison pill language that the U.S. and Israel could not support. This language was not included in the resolution, but instead, as a compromise, was offered by Ireland as a separate, stand-alone resolution. Next, the UNGA was asked to raise the threshold needed to pass the anti-Hamas resolution to two-thirds of the members—a rarely invoked rule. This was a clear double standard. A week earlier, the UNGA passed numerous resolutions under the same agenda item that attacked Israel mercilessly without triggering the two-thirds requirement. Indeed, the separate Irish resolution, which referenced an anti-Israel U.N. Security Council resolution and tried to set parameters for a peace deal that would leave Israel without sovereignty over the Old City in Jerusalem (amongst other areas), was also not subjected to this rule. Only the resolution that condemned a terrorist organization bent on murdering Jews required a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote was close, but a two-thirds majority was required in the end, a threshold which was unfortunately not reached. However, 87 countries did vote in favor of condemning Hamas.
The blocking tactics showed, without a shadow of a doubt, that the anti-Semitic double standard against Israel is still very much in play, and out in the open, at the UNGA. Although the resolution did not ultimately pass, it is still a step in the right direction. The vote total of countries voting in favor of condemning Hamas had increased from a previous U.S. attempt to condemn the group at the UNGA earlier in 2018. Hopefully, the U.S. and other friends of Israel will increase the pressure until a resolution is finally passed.
In the days following the Hamas resolution, Israel began Operation Northern Shield, which exposed a number of Hezbollah tunnels that run under the Lebanon-Israel border. The tunnels were meant to be used in a surprise terror attack to murder Israeli civilians living near the border. The war in 2006 started similarly, when Hezbollah terrorists infiltrated Israel and attacked an Israeli patrol, killing three IDF soldiers and kidnapping two others. A terror attack of the magnitude that Hezbollah was planning with the use of these tunnels would have necessitated an Israeli military response that would be stronger than the 2006 Lebanon war. Many in the international community understood the seriousness of this development and condemned the violation of Israel’s sovereignty and U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 (which passed at the end of the war in 2006). The U.S. called for a meeting of the council to discuss the violation.
At the council meeting, many countries did condemn the Hezbollah tunnels in their speeches, although some again tried to seek balance where it does not exist and condemned “both sides.” Kuwait and Bolivia ludicrously sought to downplay the tunnels as a “relatively minor incident” and “not really a threat to peace.”
The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL) was praised by many, as was the Lebanese army, for their response to the exposure of the tunnels. This is not the time to praise either entity. UNIFL has failed to carry out its mandate. It has been telling the Security Council in reports that the situation is calm while not taking seriously Israeli warnings about the buildup of 100,000 Hezbollah missiles in southern Lebanon and that Hezbollah is camouflaging missile depots, bunkers and surveillance operations under a civilian smokescreen (including using a fake environmental NGO).
The Lebanese Army has not lifted a finger to disarm Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, as it is supposed to under resolution 1701. And why would it? Hezbollah is entrenched now within the politics of the country and has infiltrated the army. Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon told the council that when Israel gave UNIFL the exact locations of the tunnel entrances, UNIFL passed it to the Lebanese army, who, instead of destroying the tunnels, informed Hezbollah, which then tried to seal the tunnel to cover up their perfidy.
The Security Council should have taken action to condemn the Hezbollah tunneling operation. It chose instead to do nothing. No resolution. No official statement (which has less force than a resolution, but requires unanimous agreement—an impossibility considering Kuwait and Bolivia would block it).
The ongoing U.N. hypocrisy on terrorism does put Israelis at risk, of course, but it also does harm to the U.N. itself as an institution supposedly serious about peace (or even a more basic idea—stability) in the region and to civilians in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Hostility to Israel at the U.N. and hypocrisy on terrorism against Israelis allows Hamas and Hezbollah to continue to use civilians as human shields to protect rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. Israel will eventually have to respond forcefully to the threat from both groups on its borders. The international community’s scorn and condemnation will fly against Israel—as usual—but it is their own failure to confront the issue now that will lead to regional strife in the future when Israel must defend Israeli lives.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
When, in December 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced the introduction of the resolution to revoke the so-called “Zionism is racism” resolution at the United Nations, he said that the resolution mocked the principles upon which the U.N. was founded. Zionism, he said “is the idea that led to the creation of a home for the Jewish people, to the State of Israel. And to equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself, a member of good standing of the United Nations…This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel's right to exist. By repealing this resolution unconditionally, the United Nations will enhance its credibility and serve the cause of peace.”
These words still resonate today. Because, unfortunately, 27 years after the revocation of this infamous resolution, there are entities at the heart of the U.N. system that continue to challenge Israel’s right to exist and to seek its destruction.
On November 30, 2018, 100 and 96 states, respectively, voted at the United Nations General Assembly to renew the funding and mandate authorization of two biased entities that only push the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement further away.
One of these entities is the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” (CEIRPP). CEIRPP was created by the General Assembly on November 10, 1975, the same day that the “Zionism is Racism” resolution was approved. But while this resolution was successfully repealed in 1991, CEIRPP remained in place.
Made up of the representatives of 26 countries (including some of the world’s most atrocious regimes), CEIRPP’s main goal is to promote the idea that Israel is an illegitimate entity and a racist regime. And to achieve its destruction, it actively advocates for the so-called “right of return” of the “Palestinian refugees” to the land that is today the State of Israel. And by Palestinian refugees, they not only mean the original people that were displaced as a result of the war that Israel was forced to fight right after its independence, but also their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren along the paternal line.
Fortunately, the U.S. government has recently challenged the notion that there are more than five million Palestinian refugees today, by disputing the characterization of descendants of refugees as refugees. The U.S. has also stopped its funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the U.N. agency that has perpetuated the Palestinian refugee problem by inflating their numbers and by allowing their status to pass from generation to generation (something that doesn’t happen with any other group of refugees in the world). But CEIRPP continues to disseminate its rejectionist agenda throughout the world in the name of the U.N.
The other entity, whose funding and mandate authorization was renewed on November 30, is the Division for Palestinian Rights (or DPR). This entity was created in 1977, at the request of CEIRPP and to assist with its mission. The Palestinians are the only people in the world who have their own division within the U.N. Secretariat, so this entity is a real anomaly.
By supporting CEIRPP and DPR, U.N. member states are endorsing the rejectionist position of the Palestinian leadership and reinforcing the idea that they will be able to end Israel’s existence through the mass migration to Israel of persons of Palestinian ancestry. They are, therefore, discouraging peace negotiations, which would necessarily imply the recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and the abandonment of the “right of return.”
Generations of Palestinians continue to be indoctrinated in the idea that Israel is an illegitimate entity and that they have an "inalienable" right to return to that land. This is where the main obstacle to peace is. And the responsibility of the U.N. and its members in maintaining this dangerous fantasy is enormous.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
It’s great to know that many Jewish people are constantly engaged with their directive of tikkun olam, or healing the world, extending even to their entertainment choices. A glance at the subject matter addressed at Jewish film festivals screened around the country provides the evidence: movies of all genres address a host of pithy topics that range from Holocaust history to the dilemma of the transgender Chabad congregant. At this celebratory time of the year, all-consuming gravitas has the potential to send moviegoers exiting the theater for the nearest happy hour. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Jews are God’s funniest chosen people.
In this season of light and joy, listing a round-up of some of the year’s funny Jewish movies…well, it couldn’t hurt. The movies were made by people both young and old, but all of them delve into issues that have the potential to make people rethink their relationship to their faith and ethnicity, and the roles that Jews have played in bringing about change for the better, with a sense of fun and good humor. This is a good thing.
As conveyed by its title, “Jewtah,” a film by Jeremy Rishe and Cameron Bossert, transports Jewish viewers to a place they’ve all visited. It could be in Salt Lake City, or anywhere else. Consumed by his fear of Mormons, or rather, his fear of what he thinks Mormons think about Jews, our hero Pincus hasn’t left the basement of his grandmother’s Utah home for over a decade. When the unthinkable happens, God himself tells Pincus to clean up his act. Although the script is based on his own experiences as a Jew from Utah, it’s a distinct possibility that actor/writer Rishe didn’t really have a mystic encounter with a deity of any kind. However, he certainly enjoyed growing up with Mormons, taking pleasure and pride in being singled out as exotic in a community filled with people who were eager to know his traditions and wished him no harm. Ultimately, Pincus will revel in both his difference and in the ties that he forges with those around him, but you can bet that his “meshuga,” or crazy, road to self-actualization is going to be a bumpy one filled with ups, downs and laughs.
The viewer rides along Israel’s byways in a bus filled with a gaggle of non-Jewish American stand-up comics in “Land of Milk and Funny,” Avi Liberman’s documentary about the morale-building tour he led in that country during a particularly dark time in the early 2000s. Carrying their big shticks to audiences whose day-to day-lives were affected by the threat of terrorist violence, these comics win over their audiences just by showing up, not to mention their boffo material. For Liberman, the ongoing tours, benefitting a philanthropy which assists victims of terrorism, is “a way to combine what I do for a living with something positive for Israel. …. while it may not make me any more famous or advance my career…the rewards outweigh any of that.” Hailed by the Times of Israel as “both side splitting and moving,” “Milk and Funny” proves that you don’t have to be Jewish to score big laughs in Israel.
Showcasing recently discovered tapes, home movies and diaries, “Love, Gilda” presents an odyssey into the life of Gilda Radner, an original “Saturday Night Live” ensemble member whose zaniness on stage, television and in film delighted millions before she died at the height of her career. SNL luminaries awed by her gifts for physical comedy, over-the-top mimicry and improvisation bring Radner’s presence to life, while the star’s home movies reveal her sweetness and warmth, as well as the courage and humor with which she confronted her illness. Those of other generations who know her by reputation alone will be captivated by her and will find that much of her work holds up beautifully.
Our final trip will take many older Jewish viewers back in time, as memories of gilded dragons, beaded curtains, brocade walls and the aromatic bouquet of wonton soup evoke past celebrations of Hanukah and Christmas. Set in a doozy of a 1960s Chinese restaurant, whose staff welcomes customers on Christmas day, “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas,” is part fantasy, part documentary as filmed by Canadian director Larry Weinstein. In it, he divulges a shocking and hitherto unknown secret: the lyricists, composers and performers who remade Christmas in the 20th century, universalizing the sentiments of the holiday to make it accessible by all, were Jewish. Told through interesting anecdotes, cultural history and archival material, the story of these musical outsiders is primarily conveyed through their own amazing songs. Selections by Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé, Jay Livingston and others are sung in diverse styles, from klezmer to country, by musicians including Kevin Breit, Aviva Chernick, Tom Wilson and Dione Taylor, while even the Chinese waiters take their turn as revelers. Although a nod is given to discussions questioning the morality of cultural appropriation, “Jewish Christmas” functions as an homage to America, and to a time when this kind of terrific thing could happen.
Please click the arrows below to see images from all the films.
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.
One of the most insidious developments of 2018 has been the growing intellectual acceptance of a one-state solution in the Middle East. This trend is bad for Israel, which single-state proponents disdain, and for Middle East peace, which they profess to covet.
Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) next month will become the first Palestinian-American to serve in Congress. She openly supports a one-state solution and has vowed to oppose U.S. aid to Israel.
CNN fired contributor Marc Lamont Hill, an academic and pundit, after he called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and defended Palestinian violence in an appearance at the United Nations.
New York Times columnist Michelle Goldstein, who said that until recently one could have dismissed a binational state as unrealistic, now blames the Israeli government for the inevitability of a one-state solution. Through settlements in parts of the West Bank and by cementing Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, she reasons, “Israel has foreclosed the possibility of two states."
And then there is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which unites radical leftists and radical Islamists in their hatred of the Jewish state and their frequent calls for its elimination. BDS incursions into university campuses, labor unions, mainline churches and other sectors of Western society have brought anti-Israel hatred further into the mainstream, thus increasing the risk to Israel’s international standing and national security.
These advocates of a binational state see their proposal as the most efficient means of achieving statehood for Palestinians. It is also a means of eliminating the Jewish state. A binational state with a right of return for Palestinians would prompt a Palestinian demographic takeover that would eradicate the Jewish character of the state and leave little question about the future of the Jewish population within it. As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said, "If we want an independent state, I will not accept any single Israeli in our territories.”
The stumping by Western opinion-shapers for a one-state solution comes at a time when Palestinian public attitudes have shifted dramatically away from a two-state solution, which Palestinians favored to the tune of 80 percent in the heady days following the Oslo accord in 1993. More recent surveys have shown that about two thirds of Palestinians now oppose two states, preferring the elimination altogether of a Jewish country in the region.
For some one-state advocates, such as BDS founder Omar Barghouti, who has publicly articulated his goal of "fulfilling the vision of the dismantling of Israel," the motivation behind his one-state stance is transparent. But less hostile actors who acquiesce, perhaps naively, in support of poisonous causes like BDS and a binational state must be made to understand that their stance does not further the drive for peace or justice in the Middle East. Instead, it merely facilitates the demise of the Jewish state, a goal that is inherently and reprehensibly anti-Semitic. Support for a binational state therefore must not be normalized or mainstreamed, given the catastrophic consequences of the sinister one-state strategy.
With the Palestinians hardening their opposition to a two-state solution while receiving growing encouragement from some segments in the West, the prospect of the Palestinians negotiating in good faith toward a peaceful settlement has become more remote. And the work of pro-Israel supporters in combating the one-state solution, along with BDS and other aspects of anti-Israel hatred, has become more crucial.
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.
Recently, seniors in Iowa, Michigan and Tennessee have mailed toothbrushes to congressional candidates with the message, “I Have Teeth and I Vote.” Healthcare organizations, led by Oral Health America, are leading a campaign called “Demand Medicare Dental” that advocates for Medicare to include oral health. On the campaign’s website, citizens of these states were able to research their congressional candidate’s views on this matter and encouraged to contact candidates to voice their support for the dental campaign.
So why should Congress expand Medicare to include dental coverage? Unknown to many retiring Americans, traditional Medicare does not cover routine dental checkups, cleanings, fillings and dentures. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a minuscule 12 percent of older Americans have some type of dental insurance. Furthermore, Johns Hopkins reports that Medicare beneficiaries spend about $328 a year in dental expenses, with 7 percent of beneficiaries spending more than $1,500. In the most extreme circumstances, older Americans are forced to travel to Mexico for more economical care.
Consequently, these types of financial barriers have greatly contributed to seniors suffering from tooth decay and periodontal disease. What makes this even more problematic is that deficient oral health care only makes other medical problems worse. For example, poor oral health can lead to difficulty eating and thus inadequate nutrition, which only exasperates health conditions like diabetes and hypertension. In addition, the bacteria which causes gum disease has a relationship with pneumonia, which causes more people to visit the hospital.
Fortunately, there is a proposal to expand Medicare Part B (outpatient services) to include oral health care. This program would be financed by small beneficiary monthly premiums and taxes. While Congress is usually loath to pass legislation that increases spending, I would be curious to learn how dental coverage through Medicare could reduce other healthcare-related costs. Amber Willink, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said, “As a consequence of avoidable dental problems, the Medicare program bears the cost of expensive emergency department visits and avoidable hospitalizations. It’s lose-lose.”
However, there is good news. Americans want change!
According to a Families USA survey, a whopping 86 percent of likely voters support including dental benefits with Medicare. Furthermore, according to the Health Policy Institute and the American Dental Association Practice Institute, 71 percent of dentists agree that Medicare should include dental coverage. The survey even indicates that a majority of dentists agree to abide by regular Medicare regulations.
Clearly, there is momentum for greater dental access for our nation’s elderly population. Look no further than our elected officials on Capitol Hill who are already supportive of expanding Medicare to include dental coverage.
Undecided members of Congress should be asking themselves why dental care is any less important than a yearly physical.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant 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.
Since the massacre in Pittsburgh, much has been written about how the Jewish community is coping with this horrific event. One article stuck in my head, as it shared a comment from a child who found inspiration from red Rogers, commonly known as Mr. Rogers of the still-popular Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers, who died in 2003, was the voice of children for decades, but his words resonated after the massacre because Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh was Mr. Rogers’ real neighborhood. The words that inspired the boy were not written for this tragedy, but in response to other acts of violence. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
These are scary times for us all, and it will be particularly hard for many to find joy in the coming holiday season. While we gather with families and friends this Chanukah, there are many who will never have that joy again as their lives are forever changed by the loss of someone who was murdered because of hatred and violence.
This Chanukah, I want to salute these helpers, who are part of our community action efforts. As we use the Shamash candle to light the candles on the Chanukiah, have these helpers in mind. Their good deeds help bring light in a world that can be a dark and scary place.
I did not have to look far to find the helpers in B’nai B’rith, involved with programs that B’nai B’rith helped make possible. Here are some highlights of the activities of these wonderful people, who have made a difference in their community and show the spirit of helping.
This summer, we saw 100 helpers who were participating in the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Fraternity’s Hineni program at their international convention become volunteers for the Sojourner Center in Phoenix, Arizona. These young men helped move and transform the center’s warehouse and facility that assist women who need shelter and others dealing with difficult life situations. The organizer’s message says it best: “Please share our gratitude with the volunteers one more time. Let them know that everyone was impressed by them, their interest in what we do, and their work ethic. They truly will be change makers in the future. I hope they are able to keep a meaningful conversation going about how we treat each other. As young leaders, they have the potential and the power to lessen the amount of domestic violence we see in our communities”.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund supported a community ravaged by wildfires with a donation to the Idyllwild Help Center. The center also had help from volunteers from the AEPi staff and the AEPi chapter at Pomona College to help them with their fire abatement clean-up. These volunteers also learned that helping makes a difference and is greatly appreciated. With the assistance of B’nai B’rith funding and hands on hard work, this small community shared its thanks and learned that there are people who care.
This fall, I had the honor to speak at the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Conference about community service projects that help provide food to people in need. Other speakers provided insight into how they engage volunteers and how the B’nai B’rith housing facilities provide the support residents need to access healthy food. Sharing insight into food collection programs, members of the B’nai B’rith Bagel Brigade described how the dynamic team of volunteers from the Greater San Fernando Valley Unit collect and delivers day-old baked goods to schools and shelters every day of the year.
Six years after Super Storm Sandy devastated parts of New York City, there is still a need to help families that have not been able to repair their homes after the damage. In November, young leaders from the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network in New York joined forces with the organization SBP-New York to help with this need. The young leaders worked on a renovation of a basement and garage, assisting with the demolition needed. They were guided by an AmericCorps team of experts, who helped with the renovation. The volunteers’ efforts helped the homeowner repair their home without the need to pay expensive fees for a contractor and helped move recovery ahead.
This year, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as has been done for decades, volunteers will visit veterans’ hospitals to bring some holiday cheer for the patients and thanks for the nurses on duty. There will be B’nai B’rith volunteers at other community care facilities to fill in for the volunteer posts that need coverage so that regular volunteers can be at home with their families.
There are countless other programs and volunteers who make helping others in their community a priority. In each and every community, there are B’nai B’rith volunteers who continue to fulfill the mission of our founders to care for those in need as they have done since its founding 175 years ago.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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