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A Hadassah doctor speaks out about the crisis

10 Feb

by Dr. Ilana Parkes

Image

Image courtesy of Aylana Siegel-Richman

Yesterday marked 3 years since I moved to Israel. Who would have thought that on my third ‘Aliyaversary’ I would be an Israeli doctor on strike, spending the day at protests, fighting to save Hadassah, the hospital I now – sometimes quite literally! – call home? Over the past 2 years working at Hadassah, I have come to love and appreciate the spirit of friendship in its corridors, the expectation for excellence and the dedication of its workers who put their hearts and souls and many extra hours in to heal and help the citizens and residents of Jerusalem and many others from all over Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Hadassah is one of the leading hospitals in the Middle East in clinical care, research and teaching. It has existed for more than a century. In the few years since I have become an Israeli and a part of Hadassah, I have come to appreciate its value. It is hard to believe that the government of Israel does not! Hadassah’s current situation is critical, and if it is not remedied fast, more and more excellent doctors, nurses and other staff members will be lost to other hospitals. Hadassah will no longer be the center of excellence it always has been, and the main losers will be the public it serves.

The doctors’ strike at Hadassah is not, at its core, about salaries — although it is true that we still have not been paid half of what we earned in January — it is about saving Hadassah from becoming some other second-rate hospital and ensuring the public continues to be provided with the best medical care available!

Three years ago I could not have imagined I would be writing this today — I am not a political person. But this issue affects me personally now, and it will affect thousands of people on  a personal level very, very soon. Three years ago I moved to this country to be part of its growth and to serve its people and, despite the craziness here, that is still my dream. That is why I spent yesterday fighting for Hadassah.

Ilana Parkes is a doctor at Hadassah Hospital.

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Olympic Medals: Israel’s Top Priority?

20 Aug

by Yechiel Marcus

Image courtesy of Yechiel Marcus

As the Olympics in London come to a close, Israelis are understandably disappointed that none of our athletes are coming home with a medal. In past Olympics, the national excitement was palpable when Arik Ze’evi won a bronze medal in judo, or Gal Fridman brought home the only Israeli gold medal – in men’s windsurfing. The whole country cried together with Ze’evi when he lost to the German judoka in such a short match.

When we see the number of medals that the US has won – 104, and even countries like Trinidad & Tobago with four medals, there has been a call in Israel for an inquiry into why not one Israeli athlete won a medal. According to the Olympic Committee of Israel (OCI), Israel spent almost $200,000 to prepare each of our sportsmen/women for the Olympics. (Hats off to the OCI! – none of the US Olympics offices responded when this writer asked for a similar figure for the US.) Although this seems like a large investment, other countries spend much more to guarantee that their athletes ‘bring home the gold.’ The first step in moving towards bringing home Israeli medals from Rio de Janeiro in 2016 is to greatly increase the amount of money that we spend in preparing the Israeli Olympic team. But first we have to ask ourselves if this is a national priority.

Today we spend a large portion of our national budget on defense. As long as our neighbors are bent on destroying Israel, or taking a deadly swipe at our citizens at any opportunity, few would doubt the need for the expenses involved in securing our safety and existence. In addition, future generations of Israelis need a higher level of education in order to keep pace with advancements in science, medicine, hi-tech and engineering. According to the Ministry of Education, we are spending approximately $3,500 per child per annum in our education system. Almost 20% of Israeli families are living under the poverty line, as determined by the National Institute of Insurance survey (Doch Ha’Oni), last published in November. Yet the government relies on non-profit organizations to provide for their basic needs – food for children who have their only real meal each day at afternoon enrichment centers, a safe home for teenage girls who can no longer live at home due to physical and emotional abuse, and educational and emotional support for children with severe learning and behavioral disabilities and their families. Shouldn’t we be spending more of our precious funds to help these children?

Yes, it would be very exciting to welcome back Israeli Olympic athletes when they come home with medals. But let us keep things in perspective. As one Israeli swimmer pointed out when asked whether he was disappointed coming in seventh in the finals: we can be quite proud of having so many athletes that are in the top 30 in the world in their respective sports. Let us invest our money in the next generation of Israeli citizens, so that they will become Nobel Prize winners, inventors and initiators of great ideas, instead of relying on the welfare system for their next meal.

Yechiel Marcus, yechiel@jaffainst.co.il, is the Senior Advisor for Planned Giving at the Jaffa Institute, which serves children and families in poverty since 1982. www.jaffainstitute.org.

The invisible epidemic

10 Jul

By Chantal Jacobs

Photo courtesy of everythingsinhebrew.blogspot.com

In 2009, there were 333,751 reported cases of child abuse in Israel. Despite a twenty-year-old law compelling anyone who suspects child abuse to alert the authorities of that fact, it is widely considered that these reported cases represent a mere fraction of the number of abused children in this country. Moreover, the number of teenage girls who the Israeli Ministry of Welfare has deemed sufficiently at-risk to be removed from their homes is approaching 20,000. Of these 20,000 victims of abuse or neglect, just 1,000 have been placed outside of their homes. It is tragically clear that thousands of young girls are continuing to suffer alone, forced either to endure continued abuse at the hands of their tormentors, or escape from their homes onto the streets where they are initiated into a whole new world of dangers.

It is a sad fact that those girls who run away from home due to abuse are more likely than not to suffer further abuse while they are living on the streets. Indeed, faced with the prospect of yet another hungry night sleeping outdoors, most girls eventually fall prey to the commercial sex trade. With no one to protect them, they often have no other option.

Of course, along with their sexual exploitation inevitably come other deviant behaviors; drug and alcohol abuse are rife amongst teenage runaways. However, much like abused girls who remain in their homes, these behaviors are more likely to be inwardly, rather than outwardly, destructive. Indeed, girls who have suffered abuse tend to express their anguish by dropping out of school, developing serious eating disorders and self-harming. Unlike abused boys, who loudly devastate the world around them, female victims of abuse are often so quiet, they are almost invisible – often no one notices them until they attempt suicide.

Even then, the damage is focused on themselves. Society remains unhurt.

Unfortunately, insufficient government funding is directed towards Israel’s epidemic of abused teenage girls. This translates to exhausted state-run facilities with no financial means to expand their services to help the girls who so desperately need them. Furthermore, they are unable to enact the creative therapeutic and educational programming necessary to successfully rehabilitate them.

Without intervention, these victims of abuse are likely to enter adulthood miserable, alone and with no hope of recovery. Robbed of the opportunity to succeed in life, their futures will be tarnished by poverty and need. Moreover, neglected by society, they are likely to neglect their own children, creating a whole new generation of abuse.

The abused girls of Israel need to be given a voice. Their needs can no longer be overlooked, simply because they are silent. As society we have an obligation not only to protect our children from harm, but also to provide care to those children who have slipped through the net. Failure to do so will inevitably create more victims of abuse in the long term. Thus, the rehabilitation of abused teenage girls is vital for the future of Israeli society. They must no longer be invisible.

Chantal Jacobs is the Grant Coordinator at The Jaffa Institute – a private, non-profit organization that provides after-school programming and a host of other social services to thousands of severely disadvantaged children and their families in the greater Tel Aviv-Jaffa area of Israel.

Give a Kid a Big Hand Up, It Just Takes a Little Mouse

19 May

By Jackie Frankel

Israel has become known as the “Start-Up Nation,” producing more start-up companies per capita, and companies that are traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange, than any other country in the world outside the US. Israel is a young country, plagued by war, and lacking in natural resources. It is these conditions that have created an environment of unimaginable ingenuity and resourcefulness. Israel is attracting more venture capital funds per capita than the US and Europe. Computers, security, communications, medical devices, clean-tech and biotech are booming in the face of adversity in this eclectic, entrepreneurial society. Whether it is the discipline, pressure and intensity of Israeli army service or the haggling of Middle Eastern culture, somehow Israelis are at the lead of the high-tech race, forging successes based on their resilience and innovative spirit.

Business leaders are flocking to Israel to tour the “Start-Up Nation,” learn from its business leaders and bring a bit of the Holy Land’s economic miracle back home. But brewing behind this high-tech powerhouse’s front door are 1,774,800 citizens living in poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor in Israel is also growing rapidly as the middle class disappears. What will this miracle nation do in the face of this increasing stratification of the “haves” and “have-nots?”

The formal Computer Education Program at Jaffa Dalet is designed to address the need for computer literacy within the impoverished Jaffa community.  The program, which is instructed by IT professionals, will teach: Basic Computer Applications such as World, Excel, Powerpoint, and Internet browsers; Educational Programs in which the school curriculum is supplemented through programs that teach Math, Reading Comprehension, Languages, and Science via the computer, and the basic fundamentals behind Website Building.

The computer program will operate at the Jaffa Dalet After-school Activity Center, which caters to underprivileged children from the impoverished neighborhood of Jaffa Dalet, a community within the greater Jaffa municipality and home to a large number of Ethiopian immigrants. There are three other Jaffa Institute sites that run similar programs for disadvantaged children from other neighborhoods within our service area.

The staff of the Jaffa Institute has observed that shelter and tutoring are simply not enough to meet the needs of the children who attend our After-school Activity Centers. We have observed that the majority of families in Jaffa cannot afford a home computer, Internet service, or basic software. Thus, thousands of children are unable to use the tools of modern technology to keep up with their peers academically and they are therefore put at a disadvantage. This is an especially staggering blow to Ethiopian immigrants, many of who do not have computers in their homes, and whose parents are often illiterate and unfamiliar with computer technology.  The over-populated, under-funded classrooms in the public school system do not have the resources to provide such children with a formal computer education. It became apparent that it was essential to offer this to these children, who would otherwise have limited access to modern IT technology.

The course will be offered for three hours each week over forty weeks, with students divided into three groups based on their age. Outside of formal class time, the children will have access to the computer facilities so they can continue to learn, explore and play during their recreation time.

Many poor kids drop out of school at young ages in order to feed themselves, since they see few future rewards for even bothering to finish high school.

The government needs to adopt policies and make systemic changes and budget priority adjustments to prevent an economic crisis, while simultaneously attempting to hold a coalition government in place.

We are at breaking point. The need for serious action by the government to reduce poverty is great and, with our nation’s rapid population growth, the time for this is now.

Do you want to help children learn how to enter the biggest market of Israel? Make the investment in your business, future workers and society.

Jackie Frankel is a Development Associate and the Youth 4 Youth Fundraising Coordinator for The Jaffa Institute, a private, non-profit organization that provides after-school programming and a host of other social services to thousands of severely disadvantaged children and their families in the greater Tel Aviv-Jaffa area of Israel.

It is Good to Know

15 Apr

by Kate Rosenberg

Photo courtesy of http://mondoweiss.net

By educating that Israel is still in an unfinished state, and by training our students to critique Israel and its choices, we are bestowing them with the power to take the lead and play active roles in the ongoing creation of the State of Israel, thereby, creating active Zionists.

I was lucky enough to have been brought up in a Jewish, Zionist environment which taught me to be critical, encouraged me to ask questions and pushed me to peak “behind the curtains” when it came to Israel and Zionism. My first few visits to Israel sparked a love/hate relationship with the country, which was fueled just as much by a repulsion of its ways as an attraction to the role I could play in transforming it into the society I knew it could be. Instead of completely being turned off by the challenges Israeli society posed for a young, naive Anglo, I believe my critical education equipped me to really live in its society and adopt a more hands-on approach.

Two-and-a-half years ago I made the decision to make Aliyah, with one important proviso: if I were not doing something to help change the issues in Israeli society to which I took offense, I would not be authorized to continue living in Israel. Six months later, I was amongst the founders of Tov Lada’at(Good to Know), which was a good thing, because I really did want to stay in Israel!

In the belief that the African refugee and asylum seeker community in Israel needs to be educated and headed by a strong leadership, Tov Lada’at provides support and access to members of that community who wish to study in higher education in Israel. One year ago we launched our first Tov Lada’at Fellowship, and are currently supporting six inspiring students through their undergraduate studies at the Herzilya Interdisciplinary Center through scholarship provision, community leadership training and a community volunteer program. When selecting our fellows, we seek highly motivated individuals eager to be leaders of their communities here in Israel or the political leaders of their home countries when it is safe for them to return.

The name, Tov Lada’at, is both a statement about the right to education for African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, but also about ourselves. It is good for us to know, even if what we learn is sometimes difficult, ugly or messy to deal with. Our knowing is an acknowledgement of the situation and the first step in moving towards improvement or change.

My work with Tov Lada’at (and all the challenges that working with the African refugee community in Israel it has brought with it) has provided an avenue for me to connect with my love for Israel and the Jewish People, and to carve out the more just society I would like for Israel. I believe that some Israel educators still shy away from engaging in a real critique of Israeli society in the fear that it is not their place to do so or that it will turn their students away. In response I say do not be shy to examine Israel in its entirety – warts and all – in order to facilitate amongst our students a feeling of ownership and the right to have a say about how they want their Jewish state to look like. If we do not provide our students with that much, if we are afraid of passing onto them the baton for fear of what they may do with it, then there is not much chance they will accept it at all.

Kate Rosenberg is the co-founder and director of Tov Lada’at and the Coordinator of Professional Development at the International School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies within Beit Hatfutsot. She currently lives in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Israel’s Greatest Threat

23 Jan

Photo courtesy of http://karmeyhesed.org/blog

The world likes to believe that threats against Israel’s security from its neighbors are the country’s greatest concern. The narrative of two ancient peoples in one Holy Land fighting for their place in the world is a great story and leads to a large number of headlines, an investment of a relatively large percentage of the UN’s energy and resources, and more divisive discussions and actions than other much more bloody conflicts, such as those being fought in the Congo and Sudan.

While all this may be true, Israel’s greatest threat is actually poverty.

Believe it or not, despite the growth of the Israeli economy and the country’s unparalleled success in high tech (known to many as the “Start-Up Nation” phenomenon), about 25% of Israelis live in poverty.

In November 2010, the National Insurance Institute in Israel (Bituach Leumi) released its latest “Report on Poverty” (Doch Ha’Oni). The report concluded that in 2009, 123,000 Israelis joined the “circle of poverty,” and that 850,000 children and a growing number of “working poor” are now considered to be living below the poverty line. It is clear that poverty in Israel is spiraling out of control.

The gap between the rich and the poor in Israel is also growing rapidly as the middle class disappears. In 2009, Israel’s middle class made up only 15% of the population, a decrease of nearly 20% since the 1980’s. And the figure continues to shrink. This is dangerous, if not deadly, to the Israeli economy. A healthy economy is represented by a large middle class of workers with buying power. The current situation and trend is unsustainable.

While some of the recent statistics were influenced by the global recession, it is far from the whole story. Israel had put conservative banking and fiscal policies in place long before the global crisis due to its own earlier troubles, so the global downturn did not hit Israel as hard. In 2007, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics showed that even when the economy was at its peak, great numbers of Israelis were falling from the middle class and having difficulty putting food on their tables as middle class incomes fell. No, the global recession is not to blame here. This is an older, more serious problem.

So, what is causing this increasing divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in Israel? Is it the inability of young advancing couples to save enough to buy property at 40% down? Is it the government’s policy of encouraging a culture of not working for the ultra-religious and paying more for every child born to by-choice, unemployed families? Or is it an overly generous social welfare system that leads to people finding it easier to stay home and live off welfare checks than heading back to work?

There is also the issue of intergenerational poverty. Social status impacts future wealth. This means that even if a child is intelligent and possesses high aptitude, if born into a poor family, the likelihood of success and a favorable position in life is not high.

Instead of setting aside funds to keep the parochial political parties of the coalition happy, why doesn’t the Israeli government set aside funds for poor kids who cannot afford but desperately want a higher education and an opportunity at a career? Many poor kids drop out of school at young ages in order to feed themselves since they see few future rewards of even bothering to finish high school. A subsistence items market will not support a strong economy. Where can scholarship money come from? Or money for longer school days (school ends around 1:00 PM at public schools in Israel)? Or money for rehabilitation programs for teenagers that have no place to call home?

What is keeping the long-term unemployed at home instead of out in the workplace? Maybe this budgeting season the government should look into more welfare-to-work programs and providing vocational training.

Why are we bringing thousands and thousands of foreign workers into the country when we have hundreds of thousands of citizens out of work? Agricultural work and caring for the elderly may not be glamorous jobs but choosing to stay home instead of working in these fields shows that there is a serious problem with the social welfare system, with the work ethic of Israelis and with the relevance and effectiveness of the educational system for the poor.

The founding of the modern State of Israel is the most important thing that has happened to the Jewish people in 2,000 years. We need to take a step back and realize that the ancient battles playing out today as “the conflict” is only half the story. The country’s domestic battles on the ground get fewer headlines but are just as dangerous.

Israel is a “Holy Land,” but it is also a real state with the same social problems as every other developed country in the world. Prosperity in the face of conflict and the stress of 1,774,800 citizens living in poverty is simply not possible.

The government needs to adopt policies and make systemic changes and budget priority adjustments to prevent an economic crisis, while simultaneously attempting to hold a coalition government in place.

We are at the breaking point. The need for serious action by the government to reduce poverty is great, and with our nation’s rapid population growth the time is now.

Jackie Frankel is a Development Associate and the Youth 4 Youth Coordinator for The Jaffa Institute, a private, non-profit organization that provides after-school programming and a host of other social services to thousands of severely disadvantaged children and their families in the greater Tel Aviv-Jaffa area of Israel.

When Giving Tzedakah is a Criminal Offense

8 Jan

Or: “How to give charitable funding so that everyone truly benefits”

by Arnie Draiman

It is easy to give a contribution to Tzedakah, particularly with online giving – just a few clicks and you’ve done it. And it is still pretty easy to write a check and mail it off.

But, in reality, it is not so easy to know who to give to, and how to give. Many non-profits in Israel (and elsewhere) have high overheads – 25%, 35% and some, with even more than 50%! – meaning that more than half of your charitable contribution goes to things other than what you really thought or wanted.

For example, you want to support feeding people in need. Non-profit “x” spends 28% of every shekel you contribute on overheads, so only 72% actually goes to feeding people in need. If you had a choice between supporting “x” or a different organization “y” with overheads of 14% (assuming that, for the most part, they were relatively equivalent), which one would you choose? And add to that expenses incurred by the “American Friends of,” and your Tzedakah monies continue to dwindle.

Don’t you really want to help the people you are trying to help? Don’t you want as much of your hard-earned and holy Tzedakah funds to go where they are supposed to go – and not to the pocket of someone who is earning significantly more than you? (Many non-profit CEOs earn very respectable incomes).

What can you do?

You need to be more careful than ever – especially in these troubled financial times – about how you give your money away. Ask every organization you give to (or want to give to), to send you a copy of last year’s audited financial report (in Israel, this is submitted to the Registrar for Non-Profits (Rasham Ha’Amutot) and a copy of this year’s operational budget. (This information can also be found online at websites like guidestar.org.il for Israeli non-profits, and guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org for American ones) and review it carefully. (This information can also be found online at websites like guidestar.org.il for Israeli non-profits, and guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org for American ones) and review it carefully.

How does one give properly?

Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) make it crystal clear: people should give between 11% – 20% (with 10% considered “average” and less than 10% considered “not seeing the needs very well”).

How can one give that amount away properly?

Maimonides’ second level (of his famous “Eight Levels of Giving”) says that the person/organization you are working with must be wise, have impeccable credentials, and really know how to run a Tzedakah organization.

So, is it really a crime to giving improperly?

Judaism is clear about not giving properly: it is as if you are stealing from the poor person himself, since “your” Tzedakah money is really his. We are taught (in Numbers Rabba 5:2, based on the verse in Proverbs 22:22) that Tzedakah rightfully belongs to the poor person – we are just the trustee. And if we misspend this holy Tzedakah money, we indeed are culpable of stealing from a poor person.

Arnie Draiman is a Philanthropic Consultant. Visit http://www.draimanconsulting.com

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