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.
In the Times of Israel, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin writes:
The best word to describe it would be chutzpah.
In a letter to British daily newspaper The Guardian, 50 former European foreign ministers and government leaders castigated the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The letter asserts the Trump plan favors one side, and “has characteristics similar to apartheid — a term we don’t use lightly.”
Amongst the signatories are a number of longtime, incessant critics of Israel who, when in power, seemingly did little to hide their bias toward the Jewish state. Indeed, some – early on – applied “apartheid state” to describe Israel and rarely, if ever, criticized the Palestinian side for its intransigence toward good faith negotiations with Israel.
Read the full op-ed here.
This piece originally appeared in B'nai B'rith Magazine's Winter 2017 issue. To read this and other stories from the issue, visit our magazine online here.
I’ve always thought of myself as a caring person, considerate of others and always thinking that we have a duty to be part of a society in which we respect and help one another where and when we can. Call me a do-gooder if you will, but please know that I am proud to wear that label.
With Congress back in session, I continue to be baffled by its continued attempt to turn back the clock in the face of such overwhelming evidence of the number of aging Americans who require assistance with finding a safe, secure place to live.
The United States used to have a national housing policy focusing in part on creating affordable housing for older persons of limited means. Section 202 of the Housing Act of 1959 was the only federal program that provided safe, affordable housing exclusively for low-income elderly.
The program was envisioned as a partnership between government and community-based nonprofits like B’nai B’rith to supply housing to these individuals. The government would supply the financial means to build the property, while the nonprofits would oversee the initial development and ongoing operations. Subsidies, such as Section 8 vouchers, would bridge the gap between what the tenant could afford and the cost of that apartment.
Over time, the funding mechanism for the program changed from a direct loan, with interest payments to the federal government, to a simple advance of funds for construction.
Since 1971, B’nai B’rith has been a partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in constructing and overseeing such properties. With 38 properties in 26 communities nationwide, we are the largest national Jewish sponsor of HUD-assisted senior housing. Our network comprises nearly 5,000 apartments available to more than 8,000 seniors.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the eligibility criteria were slightly refined. During the 1980s, “cost-containment” became the focus, and there was a shift to reducing the number of units being built and the overall construction cost. While budget driven, many of these decisions had an opposite effect. Having to replace and maintain systems cost more in the long term.
During the mid 1990s the program began to recognize and incorporate the physical and emotional needs of the residents, and the use of service coordinators become more prevalent.
With the aid of these professionals, residents were better able to obtain the support and services they might need to make aging-in-place more possible. HUD finally understood that providing some level of service support within the property often precluded a premature move to a more institutional setting for a resident, at a tremendous overall cost savings to society in general.
Even the definition of a well “independent” senior had changed. As these properties were basically apartments without medical or basic service supports when the program was initiated, one of the criteria for admittance into a HUD-assisted property was the ability to vacate your apartment in the event of an emergency. Today, residents are able to remain as long as they can direct the service supports around them to assist in vacating their apartment in the case of an emergency. Yet, today, nearly 40 percent of residents are considered frail and require assistance with some of the basic activities of daily living.
But, remaining in their homes with support beats having to move to a skilled-care or institutional facility many years before actually needing that level of medical support.
So, for a period of time, the program evolved and — despite severe budget cuts during the congressional efforts to reduce overall federal domestic spending — survive. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have taken pride in visiting these properties and publicly marvel at what they say is their tremendous value, not just for the individuals but for the whole community.
So, where do we stand now?
We know the country is growing older. The percentage of persons 65 and up is a larger percentage of the total population, growing from 35 million (12.5 percent) in 2000 to 49.5 million in 2016 (15 percent) to an expected 71.5 million (19.4 percent) by 2030. Compounding the issue is the increase in the number of persons 85 and older — 6.2 million in 2016, projected to grow to 6.9 million by 2020 due to our increased longevity.
But, the senior population’s sustained growth has not been matched by a corresponding growth in affordable housing. Currently, data show that there are at least 10 to 12 people on a waiting list for every available subsidized unit. The funding to create more of these properties has dried up. Currently, there are no federal dollars available to create new housing for this most vulnerable, growing population.
Where we housing advocates need to expand our efforts is to combat proposals currently being introduced in Congress that would charge current residents even more of their very low income to simply stay put. Even worse are attempts to cut subsidies completely, which could effectively throw current residents out of their apartments, and potentially into the street.
Remember, older persons must already have very low-incomes to qualify — below half of the area median income. Once deemed “income eligible,” they must pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income for rent. If they have no income, they pay no rent. And we have a number of those individuals residing in our senior housing network. Bottom line is that these applicants were either homeless, near homeless, or at best, very low-income individuals.
Congress has recently debated amendments to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill that would reduce these subsidies while increasing tenants’ contributions from 30 to 35 percent of their meager incomes and require them to pay a minimum amount of rent, or lose the apartment entirely.
And, taking this even further, 139 House members voted for an amendment to reduce funds for project-based rental assistance by $266 million in the current fiscal year, thus jeopardizing approximately 3,000 apartments which could be affected by this action. Fortunately the amendment failed, but the threat remains.
The numbers are alarming, and the White House is threatening to make a bad situation worse. The administration’s budget proposals include the most dramatic cuts to HUD programs since the 1980s, gutting federal housing assistance and redirecting the savings to “higher priority areas.” What could be of higher priority than making certain that vulnerable older persons of very low income status have access to safe, affordable and adequate housing?
Mark D. Olshan, Ph.D. began his career with B’nai B’rith in 1983 when he was hired as its Director of Senior Housing. He currently serves as Director of the Center for Senior Services and Associate Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International. He was awarded the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award in 2000. To view some of his additional content, click here.
You wouldn't know it from the Human Rights Council -- which ritualistically adopted multiple anti-Israel resolutions last week, yet only lone ones on such scenes of unsurpassed carnage and deprivation as Syria, Iran and North Korea -- but the most elemental human right of Israelis, the right to life, has been denied and threatened in a particularly relentless and vicious way for about half a year now. The council was not even embarrassed to condemn Israel for its possession of, and human rights record on, the strategically vital and essentially tranquil Golan Heights at a time when religious minorities and the U.N.'s own personnel enjoy refuge there from the bloodletting by regime forces and terrorist groups alike across the border in Syria.
In a true manifestation of insult added to injury, and of abdicated political and ethical leadership, apathy in Geneva to Palestinian terrorism comes as little surprise, though, since the United Nations as a whole is all but explicit in its indifference to violence against Israelis -- unless and until Israel responds forcefully, at which point Israel itself is subjected to especially wild opprobrium.
A running compendium by the world body, "UN Response to Acts of Terrorism," lists its reactions to acts of violence against civilians globally -- from France to Lebanon to Mali to Afghanistan to Egypt to Turkey to Belgium and beyond -- and yet manages not to note even a single one of the stabbings, shootings or car rammings that have afflicted innocent Israelis on a near-daily basis over the last six months.
Forget solidarity marches by world leaders, the superimposing of the Israeli flag on social-media profile photos or declarations of "Je suis Jerusalem"; after all, even a fresh target of Islamist terror like Belgium continues to be among those denying Israel any understanding or decency in its voting at the Human Rights Council. Instead, the UN secretary-general recently rationalized Palestinian acts of terror as "human nature" -- and went as far as to respond to the subsequent objections of Israeli leaders by publishing an op-ed castigating them for "lashing out at every well-intentioned critic," among them "Israel's closest friends." When a few weeks ago I accompanied a group of diplomats on a visit to Israel -- one that was illuminating in its revelation of the country as a democratic, pluralistic haven amid upheaval, so humane as to be unassumingly treating wounded arrivals from hostile Syria -- UN officials stationed there did not let reality disrupt their relaying of a well-practiced narrative in which only Palestinians are associated with grievance and only Israelis are saddled with obligations.
For these bureaucrats, Palestinian suffering was worthy of detailing and magnification, while Israeli suffering was minimized or ignored completely. Indeed, with the UN never considering all those Israelis maimed or traumatized in terrorist attacks, the ongoing wave of Palestinian violence, we were told, does not rise to the level of a "political crisis." Meeting the same day with a non-religious Jewish girl and an Orthodox man who had been wounded in horrifying attacks -- by sheer randomness, in different areas that we ourselves had visited in Jerusalem that day, including the vicinity of the UN compound itself -- I found myself growing emotional in decrying the failure of UN data and officialdom to see any "crisis" in an untold number of Israelis whose scars, physical and otherwise, will permanently testify to their neighbors' conviction that their lives are somehow deserving of being brought to a cruel and arbitrary end.
Putting aside cruelty, today's multiplying Palestinian assailants, whose precursors had inaugurated in earnest the era of modern political terrorism, particularly the use of plane hijackings and suicide bombings, have again honed their brutal craft. Following phases dominated by cross-frontier rocket fire, hostage-taking and other tactics, ordinary Palestinians, endlessly incited to violent hatred not only by Hamas but also by the purportedly moderate Fatah, can now harm and terrorize Israelis with little training or resources, and little possibility for a decisive Israeli response. After all, will Israel deny all Palestinians access to steak knives or to automobiles that can then be exploited as weaponry? And whom can Israel effectively confront when any Palestinian youth rifling through a kitchen drawer is a potential perpetrator of warfare? Not least, by anonymously taking cleavers to Israelis one at a time -- without the dramatic footage and gore of ISIS decapitation videos -- Palestinians can broadly victimize Israelis, day after day for months on end, without the world's so much as taking notice, let alone discerning a crisis.
Which is why, if UN officials do actually care about peace in the region or at least about the stated aspirations of mainstream Palestinians, they must finally stop coddling the Palestinians, denying them all sense of responsibility or agency, and insist that they end the crude, ubiquitous incitement against Israel that inevitably results in the deaths of Palestinians.
The UN itself, for that matter, must stop serving as a global purveyor of such incitement.
A senior UN official, explaining in a New York Times essay this month why he was walking away from a long career at the organization, wrote: "If you lock a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again." At the UN, he acknowledged, "too many decisions are driven by political expediency instead of by the values of the United Nations or the facts on the ground." He concluded: "We need a United Nations led by people for whom 'doing the right thing' is normal and expected."
Serial abuse of Israel was not the subject of the former UN official's piece, and -- no surprise, since it is likely the most entrenched and politically untouchable of UN dogmas -- it was nowhere mentioned in it.
However, indifference to and complicity in the deep injustice that is bigotry against Israel are central to the departure of the UN from its intended purposes and from its real potential.
The UN will remain fundamentally corrupt, and most certainly a failure at peacemaking, until it is finally able to treat the deliberate murder of Jews as it does that of others among its constituents.
Despite leading on Gender Equality Issues, Israel is Predictably Bashed by U.N. Commission on the Status of Women
This week the 60th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wrapping up in New York. Diplomats and NGO representatives have come from around the world to discuss gender equality and the fight against gender-based violence and discrimination. But, as is U.N. fashion, only one country will find itself on the agenda. Only one country is worthy of its own report, and only one country will be condemned in a resolution.
Though that country is situated in the Middle East, it is not one of the failed or failing states whose roiling violence is sending refugees fleeing to Europe. Nor is it one of the many dictatorships that oppress the entirety of its population, with a particular emphasis on arcane laws and rules that women must follow or face harsh punishments. There are plenty of good candidates for extra scrutiny on these issues in the Middle East, but CSW has chosen to focus, as it does every year, on Israel, the sole democratic state in the region that guarantees gender equality.
I point out the human rights records of other Middle East countries to illustrate the sheer absurdity of the situation, but Israel’s neighbors provide a low bar to pass. The truth is that on the issue of gender equality, Israel stands at or above its Western democratic peers. Israel was one of the first countries in the world to elect a female leader, Golda Meir. Dorit Beinisch was president of Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice. Women are serving as pilots in Israel’s air force and are securing Israel’s borders in combat roles in co-ed units. Women are making important contributions to Israel’s high-tech, cultural and medical fields. And Israel, in turn, is flourishing because of the freedom enjoyed by all citizens: Jews and Arabs, men and women, religious and secular, LGBT and straight. Of course, there are still many issues of inequality and discrimination and domestic violence that need to be addressed, as there are in every society. Israeli NGOs and a lively and free press, however, can be counted upon to hold the government accountable to continue to push for progress.
The singling-out of Israel at CSW is a symptom of the problem: the unending anti-Israel obsession at the U.N. This obsession produces dozens of General Assembly and Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions yearly (compared to maybe a handful for the most egregious of abusive countries), an agenda item at the HRC dedicated solely for Israel and another one for all other countries.
The U.N.’s organizational credibility on Middle East issues, already near zero, is eroded even further with each of these biased resolutions, reports, and statements. But the work of vital organs like CSW is also degraded by the double standard imposed on Israel, as it is seen to be politicized.
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. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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