It has been a busy 2017 at the Center for Senior Services (CSS), and we are pleased to report on our advocacy efforts. Throughout the year we have been advocating on a wide range of senior issues relating to health care (Medicare and Medicaid), Social Security and affordable housing. Our work included meetings on Capitol Hill, organizing tours of B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings and co-sponsoring rallies on affordable housing. During the year we were excited that our work was noted by the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), The Times of Israel and the New York Jewish Week.
Our advocacy efforts went into high gear in March when the White House’s proposed 2018 “skinny” budget was released, which called for a 13 percent reduction in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget. A few months later when the administration’s more detailed budget was announced, B’nai B’rith was severely disappointed that Section 202, which is housing that was developed for low-income seniors, was underfunded and the White House proposed a rental increase for residents.
Staying on top of the issue, the CSS team started visiting senator and representative’s offices on Capitol Hill that represent B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings. Specifically, we met with offices that work on the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. These committees are responsible for writing legislation that funds rental subsidies for the Section 202 program. During the course of these meeting we explained to staff members how damaging the White House’s budget would be for low-income Section 202 residents. While the 2018 budget has not been finalized we are hopeful that our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill will lead to the Section 202 program being funded more.
In addition, we followed up those visits by inviting members of Congress and their staff to tour B’nai B’rith Section 202 buildings throughout the country. We are pleased to report that Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), representing both political parties, toured our sponsored properties. Furthermore, three of the four members who visited B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings work on the Appropriations Committees. These tours were a fantastic opportunity for members of Congress to see the benefits of the Section 202 program, and gave residents a chance to speak with their elected representative. Residents were able to directly tell their member of Congress the vital role Section 202 housing plays in their lives.
B’nai B’rith was also pleased to co-host with LeadingAge the “Save HUD 202” Rally and partner with the National Low Income Housing Coalition for the “National Housing Day of Action” over the summer. These rallies took place on Capitol Hill and featured representatives and senators who spoke about the need for affordable housing. We were certainly delighted members of Congress who represent B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings attended the event.
Our advocacy during the course of the year didn’t just stop with affordable housing. We spoke out against the White House and Congress’ attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After analyzing various proposed bills, B’nai B’rith was very concerned how these policies could negatively impact seniors. For example, many of the proposed replacement bills would have cut critical funding to Medicaid, allowed older Americans to be charged more for insurance, repealed vital taxes that help fund Medicare and waive important regulations that protect health care consumers. We spoke out on these issues by releasing press releases, blogs and joined with liked minded organizations opposing this legislation in a full page advertisement in Politico.
Recently, B’nai B’rith has been very vocal against the recently passed tax reform legislation. We expressed serious reservations about this bill because of the damaging impact it could have on funding for Medicare and Medicaid attributable to rising deficits that will give cover to members of Congress to slash spending. In addition, the negative consequences repealing the ACA’s individual mandate will have on older Americans. We brought our concerns straight to congressional offices during our regular scheduled Capitol Hill visits regarding Section 202. However, we certainly applaud Congress for not eliminating the Low Income Housing Tax Credit which is critical for affordable housing construction, and the medical expense deduction which is incredibly important to countless seniors with high health care costs.
The CSS team embarks on 2018 looking to continue our success from 2017. We will certainly look to invite more members of Congress and their staff to B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings, and advocate for the Section 202 program and other policies that are vital to seniors.
B’nai B’rith International Senior Services Staff: Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai Brith International and director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services; Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services; Breana Clark, senior program associate; Evan Carmen, assistant director for Aging Policy.
Of all art forms, it is perhaps opera that provides the richest experience for its audience. From start to finish, staging an opera requires the participation of composers and writers, musicians adept at revealing emotional states and motivations using both their voices and their bodies, instrumentalists, choreographers, dancers, and artists capable of creating build sets, costumes and special effects that enhance the meaning of the score, as well as the message behind the story and text, its libretto.
Gaining popularity in the 18th century, opera developed as its venue changed from productions staged in private for the wealthy, to a public venue, the opera house, where it gained popularity, as legions of devotees, attended performances in theaters throughout Europe. In the United States, and in South America, opera companies toured through large cities, and even in far way away outposts like mining and logging camps. During the 19th century, the Jewish opera and operetta composers were often household names, celebrated throughout the world.
Today, those who are still drawn into this world by Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic and robust music and poignant narratives will quickly recognize the similarities between his works and those of the now largely forgotten, but thrilling and beautiful operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), the most famous composer of his time, whose tremendously difficult music can only be sung by performers at the top of their game. While his operas, including “Les Huguenots,” “Le Prophète” and “L’Africaine,” are no longer part of the standard repertory, Meyerbeer’s reputation is enjoying a revival, in part due to a new CD of scenes and arias in French, German and Italian recorded by the internationally known soprano, Diana Damrau.
While others converted to achieve success, Meyerbeer, born Jacob Beer near Berlin to a wealthy banking family, remained true to his faith, despite the anti-Semitism he encountered throughout his career. Influenced by Gioachino Rossini and other early 19th century masters, he went on to write the scores to dozens of works, whose libretti, created by important playwrights of the era, often draw on historical incident. In most of his operas, Meyerbeer’s protagonists are tragically affected by prejudice and persecution. Αs the conductor Leon Botstein has commented “he keeps the audience on edge…by not releasing them from the fact that they are half on stage and half in their seats,” meaning that the dramatic events they are viewing mirror the conditions of our own century. This observation aside, Meyerbeer’s lush, beautifully orchestrated instrumentals and thrilling and dramatic arias will be the main attractions for new devotees.
A genre which is continually evolving, operas about recent history are being created by a new generation of men and women who are attracted by what it can convey, and impart relevance to those who connect with it. Scheduled for its world premiere by Denver’s Opera Colorado, in Jan. 2018, Gerald Cohen’s “Steal a Pencil for Me,” inspired by the real life love story of Dutch Holocaust survivors, is set in the Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Cohen, whose previous vocal and instrumental output has been honored with the Cantors Assembly’s Max Wohlberg Award for distinguished achievement in the field of Jewish composition, is also a celebrated cantor. “Steal a Pencil for Me” will be staged in New York, at both the Morgan Library on April 23, and at the Jewish Theological Seminary on April 26, where Cohen will take part in a discussion with composer Laura Kaminsky, whose opera “As One,” deals with transgender issues.
The U.N. and its system of “specialized agencies” is famous for barring down indiscriminately on the world’s only Jewish state—Israel—and serving as a kangaroo court to heap abuse on the only country in the Middle East that boasts democratic elections, peaceful transfer of power and an independent judiciary that ensures equality for all citizens. According to figures compiled by Fiamma Nirenstein, a journalist and former Italian parliamentarian, the U.N. Human Rights Council has adopted 135 resolutions from 2006 to 2015, of which 68 have been against Israel; the General Assembly has approved 97 from 2012 to 2015, of which 83 have been against Israel; and UNESCO adopts ten country-specific resolutions every year, and all of them against Israel.
This travesty continues despite the U.N.’s abysmal failure, since its establishment in 1945, to achieve its chief goal to “maintain international peace and security.” The number of deaths attributed to the 100-year old Israeli-Arab conflict are estimated at some 120,000—compared to the grotesque number of deaths attributed to other wars, massacres, slaughters and oppressions are upward of 200 million in the 20th Century. Still, the U.N. system continues to undermine its credibility by finding new and imaginative ways to attack Israel, serving as one of the chief enablers of anti-Semitism—a term which today includes, by most versions, anti-Israel bias.
The most recent series of tainted resolutions have come from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is headquartered in Paris. In October, the Executive Board voted three times on resolutions that have denied the Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site—the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The resolutions, promoted by the Palestinians (which became a full member state at UNESCO in 2011), the Arab bloc and others, were allowed to pass—with diminishing majorities—by the feckless abstentions cast by many member states. This included Christian-majority countries that ostensibly have a vested interest in maintaining the Judeo-Christian historical narrative of the late Second Temple period in the cradle of Christianity.
These resolutions were so outrageous that they even elicited a rare written condemnation by UNESCO Secretary-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria and expressions of remorse by the presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Italy at their country’s vote. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went as far as to tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a subsequent telephone conversation that: “To say that the Jewish people have no connection to Jerusalem is like saying that the sun creates darkness.” Renzi promised to vote against such resolutions in the future, and to act to convince other European governments to adopt his position.
All of these efforts by world bodies whittle away at the legitimacy of Israel's presence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region, but they have little impact on the ground. These resolutions in fact are so outrageous that they have provided Israel with a perfect cover for keeping out recurrent committees of investigations that the U.N. has tried to send here—usually populated by "experts" whose anti-Israel bona fides are quite evident— in an effort to ignite an already flammable situation.
The UNESCO resolutions could in fact be credited for the record number of Jewish visitors to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount during the Sukkot holiday. On Oct. 23, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) called on all Israeli Jews to converge on the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing. On a Facebook post he said: "This year, we’ll come, in our masses, to Jerusalem, to the Western Wall, to the Priestly Blessing. This Wednesday…we’ll all be there. We’ll send a clear message—nobody will separate us from our holy places.”
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall, responded to the UNESCO decision by saying that, "In all of world history I don't know of an 'occupying power' whose land is full of the relics of its ancestors. The holiness of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall for the Jewish people goes back many generations. It does not need anyone's approval. It is ridiculous to deny the (archaeological) discoveries that are occurring all the time. The millions of worshipers who come to pray at the Western Wall in front of the Temple Mount are the Jewish answer to UNESCO."
And as if in perfect timing, two major archaeological discoveries that reinforce the Jewish narrative and connection to Jerusalem came to light just as the international community sought to deny it. On Oct. 27, compelling evidence of the breaching of Jerusalem’s so-called “third wall”—which was said to have surrounded the city during the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.—was announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The new archaeological find included scores of ancient ballista and sling stones that the Romans fired from catapults at the Jewish guards stationed on top of the tower to defend the wall.
The excavation directors described the find: “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple.” And a day earlier the IAA displayed an unprecedented document containing a reference to Jerusalem from the First Temple period.
Written in ancient Hebrew script and dating back to the Kingdom of Judah during the 7th century B.C.E., the rare relic—a shipping document made of papyrus—was seized from now-jailed Palestinian antiquities plunderers in a complex IAA unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery operation. The papyrus was pillaged from a remote Judean desert cave and represents the earliest extra-Biblical source yet found to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.
While UNESCO's words might not yet have caused any physical harm, they do undoubtedly provide the grist for ongoing Palestinian efforts to engage in widespread damage to the physical elements of Jewish patrimony in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. Those archaeological finds provide incontrovertible evidence of Jewish primacy in the Holy City from the time of King David and beyond.
As an avid hiker in the less traversed mountains and valleys of Judea and Samaria, I am confronted with this sad reality on a regular basis in all areas under Palestinian control: plundered Jewish burial caves, mikvas and wine presses. Nowhere is this destruction more prevalent than on Temple Mount controlled to this day by the Muslim Waqif (Holy Trust). In an article released on Oct. 27 at an IAA conference in Jerusalem spotlighting major archeological finds over the past decade, Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem Region director, describes the vast destruction caused by the Waqif in 1999. Heavy machinery was used on the Temple Mount to dig out an entrance to "Solomon's Stables," which turned it into the largest mosque in Israel. In 2007, the Waqif dug a channel for laying electrical cables on the mount.
The debris from the first incident—dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley—is still yielding artifacts that corroborate the biblical story. One of the most significant discoveries was presented by experts just last month—geometrically patterned marble floor tiles believed to have covered the porticos atop the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period. The tiles are so vivid, intricate and novel in design that you can still read the Talmudic teaching that “whoever has not seen Herod's building has not seen a beautiful building in his life.”
The second incident was approved and overseen by Baruch and yielded some of the only First Temple artifacts to be found in situ on Temple Mount. But other senior archaeologists fault IAA for what they argue is a continuing pattern of non-intervention in the Waqif's design to damage and destroy vestiges of Jewish presence on and around Temple Mount. They fault the state for allowing the Temple Mount artifacts to remain buried due to considerations of expediency (i.e. that such digs would cause turmoil in the Muslim world).
While confronting—with considerable success—the diplomatic war against the Jewish people's chronicle in Jerusalem, the State of Israel must do more to ensure that our physical patrimony is not eliminated under the same motivation. If Israel is unable at this time to engage in a comprehensive expert and vetted archaeological dig on Temple Mount—something which is long over do—due to political, diplomatic and other temporal considerations, it must ensure that these artifacts remain in situ until future generations will have the fortune to do so.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day) in Israel is not something that can be ignored. All the newspapers and broadcast outlets are dedicated to it. In thousands of ceremonies across the country, schools, academic institutions and government offices solemnly mark the murder of one third of the Jewish people during World War II. Traffic comes to a standstill and everyone—or nearly everyone—stops in their tracks while a piercing siren is heard across the land. I very much doubt that there is another nation in the world that shows greater respect for its national tragedy than Israel does towards the victims of the Holocaust.
Although the main thrust of the commemorations remain on the crimes of the Nazis and the devastation they wrought to a world of Jewish communities, rites, learning, traditions and individual victims, the B'nai B'rith World Center has been at the forefront of an effort to use these tragic events to fittingly turn the spotlight on Jews who went beyond the call of duty, endangering themselves and their families to rescue other Jews. Little known to most people today, thousands of Jews were engaged in such rescue activities in Germany, in the Axis states and in German-occupied territories. Together with a dedicated group of volunteers, members of the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B'nai B'rith World Center have held annual large scale events on Yom Hashoah in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. JRJ was established over 15 years ago at the initiative of Haim Roet, who survived in Holland as a child through the heroic efforts of two non-Jews who were subsequently recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem and a Jew, Max Lions.
This event is, to the best of our knowledge, the only annual tribute dedicated to Jewish rescuers anywhere in the world. Through it we strive to inspire the nearly 1,000 school students and border police cadets present with the understanding that contrary to the popular perceptions validated by some Holocaust historians, Jewish solidarity did not die in the Holocaust—although it was, undoubtedly, put under tremendous strain. In reality, thousands of Jews rose to the challenge and, when the opportunity arose, found ways and the wherewithal to help fellow Jews.
The contemporary message we wish to promote is clear: these days when divisions among the Jewish people are escalating and dialogue has become polarized, the example of those Jews who rescued others in the face of annihilation should encourage us to rally our sense of solidarity and common Jewish destiny. Hundreds of thousands more in Israel are exposed to this message through the press coverage the event receives and other initiatives undertaken by the Committee.
Another 8,000 young German Jewish men released from Nazi imprisonment—many ransomed using his own fortune—were rescued through a scheme he proposed to establish internment camps in Britain. Israel died on June 1, 1941 along with actor and British intelligence office Leslie Howard when their plane was brought down in the Bay of Biscay by the Luftwaffe on a flight from Lisbon, Portugal. At that time Israel was busy planning the rescue of children from Nazi-occupied Europe to pre-state Israel for the Jewish Agency. He is credited with saving 50,000 Jewish lives. Each rescue story—like these two examples—is a narrative of heroism and selfless dedication to fellow Jews.
Through the efforts of the World Center and the Committee, key institutions and leading figures have become aware of the phenomenon of Jewish rescue. Writing to me and to Roet last month, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot noted that “our letter to him (about rescue by Jews in the Holocaust) brought home the importance of memorializing the Jews who endangered their lives to rescue the lives of their brethren during the Holocaust. As a result of this I found it appropriate to note these heroic rescue activities in my comments at a symposium of the General Staff at Yad Vashem prior to Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. We must remember and not forget the bravery that was shown alongside the pain. The principals of courage and camaraderie upon which the Jewish people acted in order to rescue their brethren, accompanies us—the commanders of the IDF and its soldiers…”
Also, in a letter dated May 17, Asa Kasher, professor emeritus in philosophy at Tel Aviv University and the author of the IDF’s code of ethics and a leading moral voice in Israel, wrote to the Committee in support of its initiative to amend the Yad Vashem Law and charge it with recognizing Jewish rescuers.
Another recent breakthrough is the acceptance of an MA thesis by the University of Haifa Faculty of Humanities, Multidisciplinary Program in Holocaust Studies by Noa Gidron, “Jews Saving Jews—individual initiative during the Holocaust 1939-1945” in which the World Center’s work on this issue was recognized.
These developments have inexorably set Jewish rescue on a path to become the next major topic of Holocaust research and attention.
More from the World Center:
Days ago, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to theatre and the arts to Sonia Friedman, the most acclaimed producer of her generation. The daughter of two eminent British musicians, Friedman founded Sonia Friedman Productions in 2002, and has gone on to establish a reputation as the guiding force behind literally hundreds of hits in London, New York and around the world. Winning more Oliviers—the British equivalent of the Tony Awards—than any other producer, she possesses the vision and acumen for bringing together gifted teams—directors, writers, designers and ensembles of actors—that assure success to a wide range of repertory, encompassing the mounting of classic plays like “Othello” or “Death of a Salesman,” as well as staged adaptations of films including “Boeing- Boeing,” “Legally Blonde” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” to groundbreaking new works (“1984,” “King Charles III”) “must sees” which have quickly taken the theatre world by storm.
Friedman’s current productions in the West End are “Bend It Like Beckham,” a musical treatment of the feel-good movie about a girls’ soccer team, and J.K. Rowlings’, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which is a sequel to the “Harry Potter” series and the first official staging of a work by the author, is slated for an official opening at the Palace Theatre later this summer. Replete with amazing special effects, but now using puppets instead of the live owl, whose anarchistic behavior created havoc on opening night, the drama naturally attracts legions of devotees who are eager to experience the tribulations of the adult Harry and his son as they conjoin their magic powers to defeat the forces of evil.
Playing at the Savoy Theatre is the first revival of the musical “Funny Girl” since it made its British debut in 1966. Remembered for catapulting the young Barbara Streisand to fame, it now features a new book by American actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, but happily retains Jule Styne’s dynamic score, including the music for show stoppers such as “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade”
The story of “Funny Girl” was inspired by the life and career of Fanny Brice (1891-1951), a singer and comedian born to Lower East Side immigrants, who rose to fame as a Jazz Age star and frequent headliner of the Ziegfeld Follies. Numbers which she popularized during her heyday included “My Man,” an American version of a French torch song whose lyrics proclaimed a street waif’s devotion to her boyfriend, a faithless and violent pimp, as well as the wistful lament “Second Hand Rose,” and the whimsical and sunny “I’m Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love.” Characteristically resorting to the stylized Yiddish inflection that was at the time was considered funny by both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, she lampooned the contortions of a snooty Russian ballerina in “It’s Gorgeous to Be Graceful” and fused Native American ethnicity with that of her own Lower East Side persona in “Look at Me, I’m an Indian.” On radio and then on television, she starred as Baby Snooks, a snarky little girl whose sarcastic comments delighted fans nationwide. Using tricks which often bordered on blackmail, Snooks always got the better of her long suffering and harried dad.
Images of breathtaking architectural treasures photographed at sites across Europe draw the visitor into the website of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ). AEPJ is an organization that was established in 2004, and now sponsored by a consortium of six Jewish organizations, including B’nai B’rith Europe, which sponsors two major activities, the European Days of Jewish Culture and the European Routes of Jewish Heritage. Both projects were originally initiated in 1987 by the Council of Europe, which continues to provide generous support to these and other AEPJ endeavors. Throughout its history, AEPJ has continually expanded its mission to introduce and educate people of all backgrounds to the development and innovations fostered by Jewish architecture, fine and decorative arts, literature and their role within the context of European history and culture. One of AEPJ’s missions is to keep alive the memory of the Shoah for generations to come.
The European Days of Jewish Culture is an annual celebration which takes place in dozens of cities and towns across the continent every fall, with each year focusing on a multifaceted theme like music, festivals, nature, art and even Jewish humor. Communities, arts organizations, churches and synagogues partner with AEPJ to produce concerts, tours, lectures, film screenings, art exhibits, theatrical productions and interfaith ceremonies that entertain and expand the perceptions of the topic for its audiences. In 2016, “European Days” will explore the myriad aspects of Jewish languages. Those interested in reading more about the past history of these observances can access eleven years of handsomely produced reports and documentary photos archived on a special webpage.
In March, the AEPJ coordinated a week of events that honored the 500th anniversary of the Jewish ghetto in Venice, Italy, culminating in a series of moving ceremonial tributes taking place in the ghetto itself.
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