A Place to Call Home As U.S. population ages, the need for senior housing increases and requirements evolve

Weinberg Manor South, located on the same campus as Manors West and East, has already rented out 90 percent of its units. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Weinberg Manor South, located on the same campus as Manors West and East, has already rented out 90 percent of its units. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

The often-described “graying of America” or “age quake” has influenced developments in the senior housing market, creating a growing concern for availability as well as a growing business.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, by the year 2030, 19 percent of the population — 72 million people — will be age 65 or older in the U.S., more than twice the amount of just 15 years ago. The American Association of Retired Persons asserts, even more specifically, that approximately 8,000 baby boomers will turn age 65 each day for the next decade.

Case in point, Weinberg Manor South, Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.’s (CHAI) newest senior housing location on Fords Lane in Baltimore City, has already rented out about 90 percent of its 90 units. It opened at the end of December.

At the facility, whose completion took just over a year from funding to finish, residents can enjoy a community dining area, a hair salon, a wellness suite (with a doctor, nurse and therapist staffed as needed), a crafts room, a game and computer room, library and a volunteer-run convenience store, all located on the premises. There is also a shuttle service to take residents on errands and on other excursions.

These services are directly in line with what Alexis Denton, a gerontologist and architect with SmithGroup JJR, claims are big trends in senior housing.

“I think the biggest trend is incorporating wellness into senior housing, I mean more than just the typical fitness area,” she said, noting that new senior living communities now tend to feature spas, massage rooms and, as evidenced at Weinberg Manor South, an on-site clinic where visiting doctors and nurses can see patients.

Denton is a member of the American Institute of Architects Design for Aging Knowledge Community, an organization that, according to its website, strives to “foster design innovation and disseminate knowledge necessary to enhance the built environment and quality of life for an aging society.”

Citing the increasingly common addition of game rooms, mixed-use social halls and multiple dining room settings in senior housing, Denton said, “It’s really designing to be social. That’s why senior living is a great answer for so many seniors; otherwise they’d be aging at home, and that can be very isolating.”

“I’m excited, I’m on the first floor, and everything is right here,” said Celina Chakarov, who moved from the Rockland Run condominium development after she began to feel isolated from family and friends. “I want to do everything, that’s why I moved to a place like this.”

Weinberg Manor South also offers a full-time Russian-speaking Jewish Community Services support service coordinator and a JCC activity coordinator. Students from the neighboring Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore will also work with residents on computer skills, said Cindy Zonies, the director of resident services at Weinberg Senior Living.

“We encourage socialization,” she added.

“A strong community is one that does acts of charitable kindness for people in need,” said Mitch Posner, executive director of CHAI. “And vulnerable older adults are near the top of that list,” so providing safe, clean, service-enriched, state-of the-art homes for older adults is a community’s responsibility.

Ellen Jarrett, director of housing and planning development at CHAI, has witnessed many trends and influences in affordable senior housing during her 23 years with the organization.

Most recently, she said, “technology has changed a lot of what you can do in a building.”

For instance, at the senior buildings managed by CHAI, medical pendants are issued to all residents that allow them to make contact with someone outside the building in case of an emergency; such emergency call units used to be hard-wired and stationary, like pull-cords. Also, 24-hour monitoring and secure entry systems are a regular expectation by residents at the 15 facilities that bear the Weinberg name, she said.

New resident Celina Chakarov looks forward to taking advantage of all the amenities and meeting her neighbors.

New resident Celina Chakarov looks forward to taking advantage of all the amenities and meeting her neighbors.

Jarrett also noted that requirements for environmentally safer building construction has affected development costs that can sometimes translate to higher rental fees, but the trend that really concerns her is that over the last 20 years, federal dollars available for affordable senior housing have decreased significantly.

“When I started, there was the [Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly] program through the federal government, which allowed us to do our first five projects, [each with] 100-plus units,” recalled Jarrett. “So we could reach the lowest income resident and still have a good product. That [funding] has pretty much gone away.”

In addition to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc. and city funds, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program — a state-run disbursement funded with federal dollars — provided the bulk of the funding for Weinberg Manor South.

“It’s extremely competitive, and there is not enough money to give to everyone who applies,” Jarrett said of LIHTC, adding that 25 applications were submitted, but only 11 received funding.

“When Manor South got funded, in 2013, we were the only senior project that received funding in the whole state” and most of the remaining funding fell to affordable family housing, she explained. “It is increasingly more and more difficult to find [affordable] senior housing, and the need and demand is increasing right now, but there is less and less money to do it.”

In the past 15 years, CHAI has developed 1,500 senior units in its area, which lies between Northern Parkway up to Owings Mills and from Falls Road to Reisterstown Road, and includes some adjacent areas as well. Manor South cost approximately $150,000 to $165,000 per unit, said Jarrett, including the land purchase, construction, attorney and architectural fees, outfitting each apartment with appliances and everything else needed to get the building up and running.

Property-wise, Baltimore City and County offer more affordable senior housing than many areas across Maryland, she said. But even in light of those numbers, all of CHAI’s buildings have waiting lists for available units. She forecasts those numbers will double due to the exponential increase of senior-aged adults. Jarrett, who works on both affordable family and senior housing projects, said the competition for federal funding dollars often favors family projects. But she’s hopeful that government priorities might shift in favor of seniors, given the expected sharp increase in that population.

Options Abound

The private sector has responded to the growth in the senior population with the development of various properties and services such as A Place for Mom, which advises about 200,000 families per year across the United States to help navigate the growing number of housing and care options available to seniors.

Maryland-based Jennifer Fenton, A Place for Mom senior living adviser for two years, works with clients to determine their potential medical care needs, housing desires and available financial resources, then connects them with the best match for their list of requirements.

“Something I’m seeing a lot of people request and look for are communities that offer a continuum of care,” said Fenton, “where they can age in place as their [physical or medical] needs increase. … They want to be able to stay [at a residence] through end of life.”

These clients look for places that “provide an independent living atmosphere but can increase care needs if necessary,” she said. But most seniors she works with want to avoid large campus continuing care retirement communities, where there are often 10 to 15 buildings to navigate. People are concerned they are “going to get lost, that it’s too overwhelming” and that they may need “to get into a golf cart to get to dining area.”

The approximately 30 independent living housing properties in Baltimore City and County Fenton works with are 100 percent private pay, she said, and costs can range from $2,500 per month for an independent living facility up to $8,000 per month on the high end for a facility that provides care to a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases.

Independent living costs cover rent in a senior-friendly constructed building, all utilities, one to two meals per day — restaurant-style, where residents are served their food and drinks — general housekeeping such as trash removal and laundry services and even some activities and entertainment.

Dorothy Ridley pauses from unpacking. She moved from New York to be closer to her nieces.

Dorothy Ridley pauses from unpacking. She moved from New York to be closer to her nieces.

“The other huge part, probably the most important part,” added Fenton, “means access to care 24 hours per day.” If a resident pulls an emergency cord or makes an alert with a medical pendant, “someone will be there within minutes to help them.”

There is also a system of checks and balances such as, if someone doesn’t show up to a meal, a staff person will go and check on them, which, said Fenton, “gives families a lot of peace of mind.”

The gist of it is that there are “lots of support systems in place to allow residents to live independently for much longer,” Fenton said.

At the other end of the cost and care spectrum is assisted living which, she explained, “is a totally different beast. Those residents have specific needs and a care plan in place. They’re also getting meals and medication management” among many other services. There are approximately 300 such facilities in the greater Baltimore area, according to Fenton.

Another private sector response to senior housing needs is the development of Leisure World in Silver Spring, home to 8,000 residents, who qualify for entry at age 55. With the opening of Villa Cortese in October 2012, the 610-acre community, founded in 1966, has been developed to maximum capacity.

Developer Ken Woodring, in partnership with Della Ratta Inc., broke ground on the newest 46-unit condominium building nearly three years ago when for-sale housing stock in the community dropped off from 268 units in the late 1980s to around 80 units, he told Montgomery Newsletter, a real estate development publication.

The four-story construction stands out against the community’s older buildings — a mixture of single family homes, low- and high-rise apartments — with its modern façade and added amenities such as a hospitality suite for visiting guests. It balances what active seniors are looking for in terms of private housing with access to the larger community’s longstanding amenities, including a golf course, swimming pools and a shopping center.

Residents of the newest building expect to age in place for quite some time, and though many downsize from single family homes, they are settling into units that have as many as three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.

“It’s a big decision when people decide to move into a retirement community. It’s kind of an emotional decision, it’s not a snap decision,” said Woodring, adding that clients have taken six months to decide whether to let go of their family homes in favor of senior living.

Regarding predictions for future trends, Fenton said five or 10 years ago, seniors most often moved based on a physical-care need or family relocation. Now the trend seems to be that older adults want to get out of their three- and four-story homes and avoid all the maintenance that goes with it.

“Seniors are making moves based on their wants,” she said, like someone to do their laundry, take out the trash and cook their meals, and they want to enjoy activities and entertainment. “It’s like living on a cruise ship.”

More and more, Fenton sees people in their 70s and 80s who have saved up and want to enjoy their retirement, so they make the move sooner and also avoid forcing those decisions on their adult children. Jarrett similarly has begun to see an uptick in the request for two-bedroom housing units.

“We’ve found there’s a need for people to share a unit — maybe sisters, or a husband and wife who have been married for 50 years, but now they want their own [sleeping] space, or other caretaker,” she said. “Also relatives; someone can live independently but might need someone to help with service needs.”

She has also noticed that similar to the general population, senior housing requests have begun to favor more open living space design.

“When you first started [designing senior housing] you had a separate dining, kitchen, small spaces,” she said. “Now there’s been a trend to have more open spaces.”

The breakthrough in technology use is another area that is seeing expansion and that Jarrett is excited about. The Internet allows residents to have potentially more connection outside of a building, she said, and there is exploration into bringing services to people via the Internet. For instance, it would be possible to meet with a counselor online weekly in addition to face-to-face to increase human contact.

“A lot of our seniors, they need that social connection with someone, to make sure they’re OK,” said Jarrett. “They might be happier and able to stay in their unit longer if they have [added] contact with the outside. This group [of incoming seniors] is more Internet friendly, they’ll be more open to those types of things.”

Denton hopes senior living residences might eventually integrate into the wider community, with mixed-use spaces being opened up to the public. Traditionally, senior communities have been tucked away, but urban development or redevelopment could encourage free-flow between seniors and the wider community, she said.

Jarrett said that CHAI, in an effort to proactively address seniors’ evolving housing desires, elicits feedback from their current residents before designing a new building.

“Every building is not cookie cutter,” said Jarret. “There’s always an evolution. … We feel it’s really important to make a home that someone wants to live in.”

mapter@jewishtimes.com; mgerr@jewishtimes.com

What to Do?

A packed crowd outside the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in Paris watches Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu pay his respects to the victims of last week’s terrorist attacks. (Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

A packed crowd outside the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher in Paris watches Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu pay his respects to the victims of last week’s terrorist attacks. (Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

French Jews are feeling embattled. Arsonists have targeted their synagogues, terrorists have attacked their schools and shops, and with only a few exceptions, French society has not united behind them to stop the assaults and harassment.

The solution, according to Israel’s prime minister, is simple: Move to Israel.

“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home,” Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday in Jerusalem, the day after an attack on a Paris kosher supermarket that killed four Jewish men.

“This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism. All Jews who want to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms,” he said.

But for French Jews, the answer isn’t so simple.

“The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association, told the Israeli news website NRG.

“I regret that after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government dispenses the same statements about the importance of aliyah rather than take all measures … at its disposal in order to increase the safety of Jewish life in Europe. Every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are,” the rabbi said.

The crux of the dispute — one that is hardly limited to Netanyahu and Margolin — are divergent views about the viability of Diaspora Jewish life.

On one side are the many Israelis who believe Diaspora Jewry has no future due to anti-Semitism (see: France) or assimilation (see: America), and often believe that Jewish life in the Diaspora is somehow less authentic or legitimate than Jewish life in Israel.

On the other side are many Diaspora Jews who see themselves as part and parcel of their home countries and consider their communities vibrant expressions of Jewish life. In their view, Israeli calls for aliyah in response to the challenges they face are offensive and counterproductive. Instead, they believe, Israel ought to be thinking about how it can help Diaspora Jewish communities thrive.

Netanyahu is hardly the first prime minister to ruffle feathers in the Diaspora this way. In July 2004, then-premier Ariel Sharon irked French Jews with a similar call.

“If I have to advocate to our brothers in France, I will tell them one thing: Move to Israel as early as possible,” Sharon told a gathering of North American Jewish federation leaders. “I say that to Jews all around the world, but there I think it’s a must and they have to move immediately.”

In response, French President Jacques Chirac told Sharon he was not welcome in France. Like many non-Jewish government leaders, Chirac bristled at the implication that Jews should leave en masse.

In the United States, Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua ignited a firestorm in 2006 when he told the audience at a centennial celebration of the American Jewish Committee that American Jews are only “partial Jews” because they live in the Diaspora.

“Judaism cannot exist outside Israel,” he said, according to an account in Israel’s daily Ha’aretz. “Those who do not live in Israel and do not participate in the daily decisions that are made there … do not have a Jewish identity of any significance.”

Yehoshua hit upon a similar note in a February 2013 speech to a group of several hundred American Jews on volunteer and study programs in Israel when he said, “I’m happy to see so many Americans here. I hope you all become Israelis and don’t return to America.”

Needless to say, they didn’t all move to Israel.

French Jews are in a much different situation than American Jews, however, in that they face the threat of physical violence. Add France’s serious economic problems and many French Jews agree with the view that the prognosis for their community is bleak.

“We do not have a future here,” said Joyce Halimi, who attended a vigil for victims of the Hyper Cacher supermarket attack on Saturday night. “The government talks, but it’s only words.”

In 2014, nearly 7,000 French immigrants arrived in Israel out of a French Jewish population of 500,000. That’s the equivalent, proportionately, of 84,000 American Jews moving to Israel. The actual number of Americans who immigrated to Israel in 2014 was 3,470.

Additionally, the highly symbolic decision by all four families of the Hyper Cacher attack victims to bury their loved ones in Israel reinforces the message that French Jews have a dim view of their future in France.

Of course, not all of those who are emigrating are moving to Israel. Montreal, Miami, London and New York all have seen significant numbers of French Jewish newcomers over the last decade or so.

St. John’s Wood Synagogue in London now holds a French-language Sabbath service. Montreal’s primary Jewish social services and resettlement organization, Agence Ometz, has seen a significant increase in newcomers from France. In 2013, the Italian daily La Stampa wrote a feature about the surge of French Jews in New York.

Unlike with Israel, however, there is no precise data about the number of French Jews moving to the United States, Britain or Canada.

But the migration westward is a reminder that Israel is not the only alternative for French Jews seeking to leave the country.

Breaking Point

Joyce Halimi and her husband, Julien, take part in a vigil for victims of the deadly attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Joyce Halimi and her husband, Julien, take part in a vigil for victims of the deadly attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.

PARIS — When he heard that four Jews had died in an attack on a kosher supermarket near his home, 16-year-old Natan Kalifa was overcome with grief, anger and a feeling of exclusion from French society.

He even contemplated staging an act of violence — possibly against Islamists who support the murders — he recalled Saturday at a vigil outside Hyper Cacher, the market where a 32-year-old jihadist took 21 people hostage and murdered four on

Friday before he was killed by police.

Kalifa’s distress was somewhat diminished after hearing French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in a speech at the vigil reiterate his commitment to French Jews. But Kalifa said he still plans to leave France for Israel as soon as he graduates from high school.

“For France and the Jews who stay here, I hope Valls becomes president,” Kalifa said. “For me, I hope to be gone before the next elections.”

In the wake of an unprecedented spree of terror attacks in France last week that claimed 17 lives, many French Jews expressed appreciation for their government’s resolute stance against anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, they felt the response to be insufficient at a time when anti-Semitic violence is a daily reality that is already driving out record numbers of Jews.

“The government’s response is impeccable, but that is not the issue,” Serge Bitton, who lives in the heavily Jewish suburb of St. Mande, said at the vigil.

“The issue for the future of our lives here as Jews is how France reacts, not its government. And right now, France is reacting to Charlie, not to Chaim,” Bitton said of public outrage at the Jan. 7 attack on the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that killed 12.

Joyce Halimi, 26, attended the vigil with her husband, Julien. “The government talks, but it’s only words,” she said. “We do not have a future here.”

The perpetrator of the Hyper Cacher attack, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, belonged to the same jihadist cell as Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers who staged the Charlie Hebdo attack, French police said. The cell reportedly was involved in efforts to recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands marched along with dozens of world leaders in defense of democratic values and in protest of the killings, including the slaying of a police officer by Coulibaly on Jan. 8. Tellingly, leaders of French Jewry are openly discussing the feeling of insecurity after striving in the past to reassure their coreligionists and inspire them to stay and fight.

“There are thousands of French citizens fighting for jihad in Syria and Iraq. When they return to France, they are truly bombs with a time delay,” Roger Cukierman, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said at a ceremony honoring the victims at the City Hall of St. Mande.

In an interview with Le Figaro, Cukierman called the increase in emigration from France to Israel a “failure for France” and said it owed to “growing insecurity felt throughout the country.”

French Jews, he added, “feel like the nation’s pariah.”

Rabbi Moshe Sebbag of the Grand Synagogue of Paris told Israel’s Army Radio that he estimated the attacks will result in a doubling of the number of immigrants to Israel in 2015.

“There is a tremendous feeling of insecurity and that these events will only worsen,” he said on Sunday. In 2014, France for the first time became Israel’s largest source of Jewish immigrants, with 7,000 new arrivals — more than double the 2013 figure of 3,289. The year before, 1,917 French Jews immigrated to Israel.

Among the prospective immigrants this year is Sammy Ghozlan, a former police commissioner who founded one of the country’s most prominent watchdogs on anti-Semitism, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA.

“The departure, it’s a message,” Ghozlan said in an interview about his decision published last week on JSSnews.com. “Leaving is better than running away. We do not know how things will play out tomorrow.”

BNVCA Vice President Chlomik Zenouda, himself a retired police major, spoke of a sense of fatigue.

“I have participated in many demonstrations, many marches, many vigils. The truth is I am getting tired,” Zenouda said after the supermarket murders. “And another truth is that if it were not for my obligations at the BNVCA, I would leave for Israel.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that “police are under orders not to respond, so you see cat-and-mouse games that encourage offenders to test the limits and cross them.”

Zenouda was referring to violent rallies against Israel held over the summer in defiance of a ban by authorities.

“The firm use of force that exists in the United States against violators does not exist here, and that’s part of the problem,” he said. A further complication is the sheer operational challenge involved in protecting 500,000 French Jews — Europe’s largest Jewish community — from home-grown killers with combat experience gained abroad.

“You can guard a synagogue, fine,” Zenouda said. “But you can’t put cops outside each kosher shop. You can’t assign police protection to each family before it goes shopping.”

Another factor eroding trust is the glorification of Palestinian terrorists by French elected officials, said Alain Azria, a Jewish photojournalist who specializes in documenting France’s anti-Semitism problem.

“Look at this place, it’s like Gaza,” he said at the market of Aubervilliers, an impoverished and heavily Muslim suburb north of Paris where the mayor recently honored Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving multiple life sentences in Israel for terrorist attacks.

In recent months, several French municipalities have conferred such honors on convicted Palestinians.

“Hollande can speak against anti-Semitism as much as he likes,” Azria said of French President Francois Hollande, “but when public officials hold up Barghouti as an example, we will see the result in blood on our streets, which are emptying of Jews.”

Day School Crunch

When Scheck Community Day School in South Florida opened its new state-of-the-art stadium last fall, people took notice. The 1,070-student school’s stadium is just one of many multimillion-dollar projects underway at day schools across the country aimed at revamping sports complexes.

Some hazarded the construction could signal a trend among Jewish private schools to pour money and resources into sports programs in order to grow enrollment. But in Baltimore at least, the trend is not catching.

“You don’t go to Beth Tfiloh because you want to be the next Michael Jordan,” said Jeff Clarke, athletic director at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Placing a hefty emphasis on sports “doesn’t fit with our mission.”

A 2014 Census of Jewish Day Schools in the United States released in October by Marvin Schick showed that although enrollment in day schools in the U.S. is growing overall, the number of students choosing to attend day school in Maryland has actually slipped. From 2008 to 2013, the number of students enrolled statewide dropped from 8,003 to 7,556.

Nationwide statistics show enrollment in private schools overall, which increased steadily for decades, flatlined in 2006 and has dropped since then. For many schools feeling the crunch of decreased enrollment, sports could be the answer. Notorious schools such as Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey and Mission Viejo in California have created a quasi-professional aura around their sports programs, with big donors and loyal fan bases.

At the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, an institution that has produced numerous Division I college athletes, spokeswoman Sarah Woods said many prospective parents are interested in what sports programs the school has to offer.

“It’s just one of many aspects that parents consider today,” she said. But, she asserted, the school does not sell itself to potential students and their families using their sports programs.

“We let our programs speak for themselves,” she said.

Clarke said the usefulness for sports at BT lies in the wide array of activities made available for students. While other private schools in Maryland may offer scholarships or grants to students with superior athletic abilities — BT lost two students last year to another school’s incentives — Beth Tfiloh approaches sports as a means of ensuring that students can’t use lack of programs as a reason not to enroll. And the school has seen some students go on to play collegiate sports as well, though that is not necessarily the end goal.

“For a large percentage of the kids, if we didn’t offer different sports and everything, they may not come here,” said Clarke. “We don’t want to give them an excuse to go someplace else. If they want to play sports, they can play them here.”

At Krieger Schechter Day School, athletic director Mike Foxwell also sees the value in sports when enrollment is the goal, but, like BT, his school also has no immediate plans to expand programs or facilities.

“I think all schools try to sell the sports programs as an admissions aspect,” he said, Krieger Schechter included. “It’s a big selling tool.”

He added that participation in sports at the school has also grown dramatically in the 17 years that he has been at Krieger Schechter. When he began, about three in every 10 students were on a sports team. Today, the participation rate is 85 percent. The school has even started a conference with about a dozen other local private schools that even includes end-of-season tournaments.

Still, he does not encourage parents who choose to emphasize sports to compare KSDS to some of the powerhouse private schools in the region.

“You can’t compare us to Gilman or McDonogh,” Foxwell said. “We’re not there, and we’ll probably never be there. That’s not our goal here.”

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Acts of Kindness

More than 600 volunteers turned out at the Park Heights JCC on Dec. 25 for Jewish Volunteer Connection’s annual Mitzvah Day celebration. Hands-on projects for charity dominated the event and kept all the participants happily engaged.

 


Photos by David Stuck

 

Power Push

Racheli Ibenboim is urging women to boycott haredi parties in March's Knesset elections unless they  include female candidates.

Racheli Ibenboim is urging women to boycott haredi parties in March’s Knesset elections unless theyinclude female candidates.

TEL AVIV — Racheli Ibenboim acts as if she’s in a rush, repeatedly checking her phone before hurrying off to her next appointment exactly 30 minutes after the current one begins.

The way Ibenboim tells it, she’s not just trying to keep up with a tight schedule but with a rapidly changing world.

Two years ago, her campaign to include women in haredi political parties failed. But times may be changing. This year, the Chasidic mother’s effort has garnered national attention and 5,000 supporters on Facebook since it relaunched less than a month ago.

“During the last two years, haredi women have been in academia, have gotten employment, are getting senior positions,” said Ibenboim, 29. “We’ve had discussions on haredi women that have never happened before.”

In a campaign called “No female candidates, no female voters,” Ibenboim is urging haredi women to boycott Israel’s haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, in the March Knesset elections unless they include female lawmakers. Neither does so now.

The effort, which Ibenboim terms a “protest,” has received wide coverage — some of it critical — on haredi websites, newspapers and radio programs. But like many activists pushing for social change, Ibenboim sees it as a positive sign merely that people are talking.

“There’s a lot of support and a lot of concern, and there are a lot of people who are threatened by it,” Ibenboim said. “I think the protest has already succeeded in terms of [creating] a public discussion. There’s no haredi who doesn’t have an opinion about it.”

Ibenboim is a rare figure in the haredi community. Raised in the Ger Chasidic sect, Ibenboim grew up in a Chasidic enclave in central Tel Aviv, where she became familiar with secular Israel and was inspired by watching activists protest on Rothschild Boulevard.

After earning a degree in education, she became CEO of Meir Panim, one of Israel’s largest social service agencies, at age 23. Last year, she resigned to work on behalf of haredi women’s rights.

“I took care of the poor and hungry in the state, but I forgot who I was,” she said. “There’s no doubt that there’s something called haredi feminism, and I understood that I needed to first take care of my own identity.”

Haredi women, Ibenboim says, could better advocate for services like employment counseling, health education or child subsidies from within the halls of Knesset. And haredi politicians have begun responding to her call. In December, the Shas party announced the formation of a women’s council that will compose bills and advise Shas lawmakers.

The party, however, has ruled out running female candidates in the upcoming elections.

“There’s a growing demand for haredi women to be more involved, to have more say,” Shas spokesman Yakov Betzalel said. “There are certain things only they know how to do.”

But some haredim feel the movement is unnecessary.

Aharon Kravitz, a haredi journalist and activist, said that current haredi lawmakers already represent women and that women shouldn’t undertake the “dirty work” of legislating.

“We live in the same house,” Kravitz said. “We know what they need, what bothers them. Most haredi women don’t feel a need to be parliamentarians. We’re talking about very dirty work, and there are men who can do the work for them.”

Ibenboim and her supporters say it’s only a matter of time before women gain representation in haredi parties. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, director of the Rackman International Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, noted that haredim boycotted elections in prestate Zionist institutions because women were given the right to vote.

Today, haredi parties control 18 seats in the Israeli parliament.

“There’s only so much you can hold back,” Halperin-Kaddari said. “Understanding the meaning of being the breadwinners, of being in charge of family finances, I think it was a question of time [as to when] this would translate into asking for more power in terms of the most basic democratic rights.”

Ibenboim concedes the battle won’t be won overnight but says the current state of affairs is unsustainable. As more haredim integrate into mainstream Israeli society, she says, parties that exclude women will become a burden to the entire political system.

“Israel as a whole is a democratic state,” she said. “If a party has a by-law to not have women elected, that’s a problem for democracy.”

Ibenboim is no stranger to political controversy. In 2013, she launched a campaign for Jerusalem City Council with the modern Orthodox Jewish Home party. But threats of excommunication led her to drop out just weeks after announcing her candidacy.

This time, Ibenboim says, she is undeterred.

“I already paid a price when I said what I was and what my agenda is,” she said. “I see myself as an activist. This is the mission I live for today.”

Oil Spill Heightens Sense of Urgency at Israeli Conference on Green Energy

A ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurates the new Regional Collaboration Center for Research and Development and Renewable Energy near Eilat.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurates the new Regional Collaboration Center for Research and Development and Renewable Energy near Eilat.

The worst oil spill in Israel’s history was the unplanned backdrop for a recent international conference on green energy held in Eilat, the country’s southernmost city. A busy port and popular resort city located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, Eilat is at the epicenter of the Jewish state’s renewable energy industry.

The Eilat-Eilot Green Energy 6th International Conference and Exhibition, held Dec. 7 – 9, was the culmination of six events that comprised Israel Energy Week and offered participants from around the globe a concentrated encounter with the emerging world of alternative energy in Israel. The conference focused on challenges facing the renewable energy industry today, including
storage and supply of electricity, development of methods to manage electricity flow and financing to advance projects.

It also focused on the key role renewable energy plays in the southern Arava, a stretch of Negev Desert from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba in which Eilat and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council are located. This arid, sun-drenched area is Israel’s main locale for sustainable development and functions as an international showcase for Israeli innovation in the field of green energy.

“Renewable energy, with an emphasis on solar, is a major focus of our municipal activity and plays a key role in the region as a whole,” Meir Yitzhak Halevi, the mayor of Eilat, told conference attendees. “The city of Eilat and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council, which together account for 13 percent of Israel’s land area but less than one percent of the country’s population, have recognized the potential offered by the sunlight and open space that exist here in such abundance and are concentrating on renewable energy as a catalyst for regional growth.”

According to Udi Gat, head of the Hevel Eilot Regional Council, the area has already reached nearly
60 percent daytime energy independence and in eight months will generate nearly 100 percent of the energy consumed each day in the southern Arava. By 2020, the municipality and regional council anticipate that the area will be completely energy-independent and free of fossil fuel and carbon emissions.

“We want to generate more electricity, even beyond the needs of Eilat and the regional council. We want to help the country produce electricity from an inexpensive source — the sun — and to be Israel’s electricity storehouse or ‘bank,’” Gat said.

The importance of achieving energy independence was conveyed to the conference in a dramatic way when, four days prior to the start of the gathering, an oil pipeline ruptured during maintenance work at a construction site about 12 miles north of Eilat. Five million liters of crude oil spilled out and fouled an estimated 250 acres of scenic desert, including a nature reserve. Delicate coral reefs beyond the nearby shoreline were also threatened.

The work area is the site of a future international airport to serve the southern Arava. Nearly one week after the spill, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the area and, according to news reports, said that the situation appeared to be “under control.”

“Everyone’s big concern is a loss of control by large floods that can take the oil south to Eilat and the Eilat Gulf,” Netanyahu said. “Actions were taken here to prevent that, and up until now they have succeeded.”

While fears of an environmental catastrophe seem to have abated for now, many observers believe the accident underscored the potentially destructive nature of oil dependency and the need to shift to sustainable sources. Yet not everyone at the conference seemed convinced that a total shift is feasible.

“The spill was a disaster,” said Russell F. Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), who was a speaker at the conference. “Still, I don’t think we’re ever going to see crude oil and fossil fuel completely replaced by renewable energy. We can’t convert large cities overnight. Instead, we need to strike a balance. Renewable energy can make a difference in smaller areas, like neighborhoods and communities. On the other hand, we need to come up with better safeguards to protect against these kinds of accidents in the future.”

Over the past several years, JNF has invested $1 million in developing renewable energy in Israel as part of its “Blueprint Negev” plan, which calls for bringing 500,000 new residents to the Negev. To that end, the organization, which underwrote part of the Eilat-Eilot conference, supports various projects to enhance the quality of life in the southern Arava, including those related to renewable energy.

One of these projects is the new Regional Collaboration Center for Research and Development and Renewable Energy, an office hub and testing lab specifically designed for start-up companies. It is located at Kibbutz Yotvata outside of Eilat and is expected to be ready for occupancy in about a month.

“The area is perfect for us,” said conference exhibitor Or Yogev, who was among the guests at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate the regional collaboration center. Yogev — the founder and CEO of Augwind, a three-year-old start-up that fuses wind and solar energy — plans to relocate his company there from its current base in central Israel. “This facility will help young entrepreneurs like me to implement our dreams,” he said. “The environment will encourage collaboration that will help incubate all of our projects.”

Ilan Ben-David — CEO of Chakratec, a producer of electricity storage batteries and another conference exhibitor — said he intends to maintain his company headquarters near Tel Aviv but plans to make the regional collaboration center his testing lab. “When we first started out, there were only three companies investing in energy,” he said. “Energy is a very difficult field in which to raise money. Now, because of this center and the focus of the municipality on clean energy, we plan to have a long-term relationship with the region.”

Ben-David added, “This facility will help Israel develop technologies that will not only benefit Israelis but can be exported, especially to China, India, and Africa, where the interest in green energy is great. There is a huge future for us in these markets.”

“Renewable energy is about how to get people to move to different places,” JNF’s Robinson said. “If
we want them to move to the Negev, we need to develop technologies that will lower the cost of energy, especially as it relates to water recycling. If we can produce enough energy cheaply, we can settle people anywhere in the desert.”

But how imminent is that reality?

“I think if you look at the Eilat and Eilot region and see what they have accomplished, you’ll realize that it can be done,” said Robinson. “Since the first of these Eilat-Eilot conferences was held, solar sources have come to supply 60 percent of the Eilat region’s daytime energy consumption. That means that every day they turn on a grid that provides them with enough electricity to meet all of their daytime needs. Just a few years ago, who would have guessed that could happen?”

Paris Kosher Supermarket Standoff Over

010915_france-marketAll hostage takers are dead, and their hostages are being freed after simultaneous raids on the two sites in Paris, one a kosher supermarket,  attacked  by terrorists today.

It is not clear how many casualties there are, but at least two people in addition to the hostage takers are reported dead.

The hostage situation began at 1 p.m. Friday at Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket near Porte de Vincennes in Paris’ 12th arrondissement, at a time when the store is usually full of Jewish shoppers preparing for Shabbat, Chlomik Zenouda, vice president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, said.

French police set up a security perimeter around the supermarket, where eight to 12 people, including at least one child, were being held hostage.

AFP, the French news service, said two people are reported dead. Zenouda confirmed the report.

Witnesses said the shots were fired from an automatic assault rifle. The shooter then retreated into the supermarket, witnesses said. One person was injured in the shooting, and French media later reported that at least two people died at the scene, although this has not yet been confirmed by France’s interior ministry. According to the online edition of the Le Point daily, the two fatalities were hostages.

French police simultaneously negotiated with two men who were holding hostages in a printing shop north of Paris. The men identified themselves as Cherif and Saidf Kouachi, brothers in their 30s  whom French police named as the shooters in an attack Wednesday on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly that  had come under attack by Islamists for its publication of items deemed offensive to Islam.

According to the Dutch Het Parool daily, police sources in France said the hostage takers at the kosher supermarket were  in contact with the brothers. Reuters reported police had received threats that the hostages in the kosher shop would be killed if the brothers were  harmed.

According to unnamed police sources, there is  evidence linking the person responsible for the crisis at the kosher shop to the slaying of a Paris police officer Thursday by a man who shot her and another state employee with an AK-47.

The killer in the Montrouge attack shot the officer and wounded another person after his vehicle was involved in an accident, French media reported. He then fled the scene.
Reports said police have released photos of two people wanted in the shooting of the police officer: a man, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and a woman, Hayat Boumeddiene.
Relatives of some of the people being held hostage at the kosher shop arrived at the scene during the standoff but were prevented from approaching, said Alain Azria, a French Jewish journalist who was at the scene. Among the hostages were  one woman and her daughter, he said. The girl’s father was forced to wait behind the police line for over an hour, he said.

Police locked down schools in the vicinity. Authorities in the 4th Arrondissement  said  that police had ordered shops to close on the Rue de Rosiers, a Jewish area where shoppers tend to proliferate in the hours before Shabbat.

The terrorists involved in the various attacks were followers of Djamel Beghal, a charismatic Islamist, Le Monde reported.

BREAKING NEWS: Two Reported Killed, Hostages Taken at Paris Kosher Market

010915_france-marketSeveral people are being held hostage at a kosher supermarket in Paris. and two are reported dead.

The hostage situation began shortly after noon at a kosher supermarket near Porte de Vincennes in Paris’ 12th arrondissement, according to Chlomik Zenouda, vice president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

“Ten people are being held hostage and one person, probably a member of the Jewish community, was wounded in the takeover,” he said.

AFP, the French news service, said two people are reported dead.

Witnesses said the shots were fired from an automatic assault rifle. The shooter then retreated into the supermarket, witnesses said.

The person holed up inside the kosher supermarket is believed to be connected to the killing of a police officer in the suburb of Montrouge south of Paris on Thursday, Zenouda said, citing police sources.

Police locked down schools in the vicinity.

The killer in the Montrouge attack shot the officer and wounded another person after his vehicle was involved in an accident, French media reported. He then fled the scene. Police believe they have identified the shooter and were searching for him, Le Monde reported.

Citing police sources, Le Figaro reported that police found a link between the suspect of the shooting in Montrouge and two men they suspect of murdering 12 people on Wednesday at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly.

Reports said police have released photos of two people wanted in the shooting of the police officer, a man, Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and a woman, Hayat Boumeddiene.

Two men who are suspected of staging the attack have taken at least one person hostage and are holed up in a printing shop north of Paris, Le Monde reported.

A Budget Problem

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Gallup 2014 Maryland Scorecard. Click image for a larger view.

With an approaching budget deficit in the $600 million range, both experts and state political figures predict 2015 to be the year of the budget.

“Unless the estimates are wildly off and the state’s able to generate a lot more revenue than they expect, I think the budget is going to be the first, the second and the third issue” facing legislators in Annapolis, said Irwin Morris, American politics professor and chair of the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland.

Adding pressure to the situation, Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan ran on a platform of cutting taxes for Maryland’s residents and businesses. Combined with the state’s need for revenue, many are predicting a lively budget process. While state legislators may not add to the budget, they can suggest decreases or restrictions of appropriations.

The state has dealt with deficits in the past, said Morris, but none on this scale. He predicted that the governor-elect will try to make the toughest cuts this session in the hopes that seemingly easier cuts in the future may be what stick in voters’ minds in the next election cycle.

“What concerns me a little bit is that the estimates for the deficit have grown,” said Morris. “I think this may be a little bit more problematic than in the past for several reasons, because you have a cut-taxes platform that the governor ran on and because it looks like the size of the deficit is growing.”

John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University, said he expects there to be some battles on the floor about the budget, specifically with what services to cut. He expects some of the taxes and fees that were passed during outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s tenure, such as the stormwater management fee popularly known as the “rain tax,” as well as corporate tax rates, to be under fire.

“Large decisions have to be made about where that extra money is going to be coming from,” Bullock said.

Local representatives such as Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) don’t expect it to be an easy process. The budget gap is substantial, he said, and there isn’t much more excess the legislature can trim from the budget. He expects Hogan may look to change the K-12 education formula to help recoup some funds, but that would be controversial in the legislature, Stein said.

Stein said at least one fallout from the shortfall will be higher college tuition rates, especially since higher education will likely not see additional state funding. Local governments seem to be nervous about their state funding as well, he said.

“My take is that [the legislature] will be willing to work with [Hogan] where we can, at least with respect to budget issues,” Stein explained, adding that there are likely to be concerns in both parties about the budget.

Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41) agreed that the budget would be the primary focus of the session.

“We’ll see what his priorities are” when Hogan submits his budget Jan. 23, said Rosenberg. Until the budget is proposed, he added, it is difficult to predict how much controversy may arise from it and how the legislature will react.

Though he thinks the budget will be the biggest issue, he doesn’t think the task of balancing it will prove as insurmountable as some are depicting.

“We have had similar budget deficits at the outset of the session, and we have done what we needed to do to truly balance the budget and maintain the Triple-A bond rating from Wall Street,” Rosenberg insisted.

Another issue Rosenberg anticipates making an appearance in the 2015 session, which begins Jan. 14, is pre-kindergarten funding. As part of a deal encouraging the expansion of early education, Maryland receives millions of dollars in federal funding every year. Starting soon though, the state has to find a way to match the federal funds with state funding. Anticipating a possible challenge, Rosenberg said the legislature may have to prepare itself to fight on behalf of the program.

Rosenberg also expects the Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, on which he sits, to find itself readdressing some of the issues it dealt with in the past as the new governor works to follow through on campaign promises to reform the state’s regulatory processes.

“We do have a host of issues that weren’t issues during the campaign, where the governor-elect has not had to say, ‘This is what I would do if elected governor,’” said Rosenberg. “Over the four-year period, inevitably, there will be a host of issues that come up, legitimate issues that the legislature will address and so will the governor, and we’ll both be judged, both branches will be judged, on how we deal with that host of issues over the next few years.”

In the meantime, said Rosenberg, social service programs are left to wait and hope that their funding won’t be subject to budget cuts. Constituents of his who have children in public schools are concerned about the potential for cuts to school funding, he said, city residents in his district are worried about funds for the ongoing improvement projects in the Mount Washington schools, and Jewish residents who send their children to day schools are concerned about keeping what funds those schools do receive from the state. Additionally, he added, there is concern about state funding that supports programs run by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Click image for a larger view.

Click image for a larger view.

At a recent meeting of the Baltimore Jewish Council, deputy executive director Cailey Locklair Tolle said the council will be watching the budget closely, especially funding for agencies of The Associated.

“We are making sure that people within the governor-elect’s administration who are helping to craft the budget are very aware of our priorities,” she said. “Our message is being carried in as many ways as we can possibly carry it.”

She and other BJC officials have been meeting with Hogan since last January.

Tolle also highlighted some of the BJC’s budget priorities. Those include funding for power upgrades and climate control at Sinai Hospital; a diabetes medical home extender program; an increase in funding for the Maryland Israel Development Center that would allow a member in Israel to work full-time for the organization; the Supportive Community Network, which helps keep seniors in their homes; domestic violence prevention programs; and the Elder Abuse Center, among others. The BJC is also focusing on mental health and nonpublic school funding.

Another major change is the 2015 session will be the influx of new legislators. With redistricting and retirements, a total of 58 new delegates and 11 new senators will take office this month. Del.-elect Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who will sit on the Appropriations Committee, is one of those newcomers.

“As a new member of the Appropriations Committee I’m in a good position to be helpful to the Jewish community’s funding priorities,” Hettleman said via email, adding that she plans to advocate on behalf of some of the BJC’s priorities such as funding for upgrades to Sinai Hospital and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, maintenance of Northwest Hospital’s domestic violence program and support for the MIDC.

A former government relations director for the BJC, Hettleman said she will also back financing for programs for the elderly in the northwest Baltimore region.

In addition to getting to know her fellow legislators and attending various orientations for her new role, Hettleman has been fielding calls and emails from citizens of her district.

“Residents of the 11th District have begun to contact me about their constituent service concerns,” she said. “I’ve also been hearing from them about specific topics such as animal rights, state services for the disabled community and concerns about the budget. A church in the community that is seeking state aid for their refugee resettlement efforts has also asked me to help them.”

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) ran unopposed in the fall election, but will begin his new role as chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee this session. Prior to the appointment, he served as a member on the committee for four years.

In addition to the budget, Zirkin anticipates much of 2015 to be spent smoothing out technicalities in laws passed in the last legislative session. In particular, he believes there is still a lot of work to do on the medical marijuana front and the state’s handling of a 2012 decision declaring that indigent defendants are entitled to legal representation at bail hearings. Last session, Attorney General-elect Brian Frosh, who was then chair of the committee, addressed the problem by applying a computer system that sets bail. Zirkin said he expects to revisit the issue in the next few months.

New issues he said the General Assembly will likely have to tackle in 2015 are hydraulic fracturing and police body cameras, two controversial topics.

The idea of equipping police officers with body cameras has been steadily gaining steam across the country in the wake of several claims of police brutality and excessive force in the summer and fall. In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed a bill that would have required officers to wear cameras last month, but went on to say that she supports the concept and wants to see it implemented efficiently.

“When worn effectively, body cameras can increase accountability and transparency for our police force, but we need to make sure that we address a number of concerns, ranging from cost to privacy,” Rawlings-Blake said in October.

On hydraulic fracturing, a technology also known as fracking, Zirkin, who is vehemently against it, said he hopes the state follows in the footsteps of New York state’s recent ban.

“It would be a health and environmental disaster,” he said of allowing fracking, which uses water and chemicals to extract natural gas from below shale rocks, to begin in Maryland. “I think it’s a horrendous thing to do.”

Stein, who takes on two new assignments this session as vice chair of the environment and transportation committee as well as chair of the subcommittee on natural resources and agriculture, expects a front row seat to both the debates over fracking and stormwater management fees.

“Our committee will be ground zero for those debates,” he said. “I know there will be legislation to create a moratorium pending a review of public health outcomes of fracking.”

He plans to introduce a renewable energy bill that will provide incentives for business to produce renewable thermal energy, a bill putting limitations on how long a dog can be tethered outside in extreme weather conditions and a bond bill that would support a forthcoming capital campaign for renovations at the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department.

Stein’s District 11 colleague Del. Dan Morhaim (D) also plans to work on some environmental issues. He plans to look into microbeads, a microscopic plastic used in toothpaste and soap that is non-biodegradable. His students at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health made a presentation on the issue, which Morhaim wasn’t previously familiar with.

“You can’t pollute the environment at the bottom of the food chain,” he said. “If you think of all the toothpaste and soap used every single day and all that’s washed into the rivers and the bay, what’s going to happen?”

While Morhaim has generally been opposed to fracking, he is introducing a fracking disclosure bill that would require fracking companies — were fracking to go forward — to disclose chemicals they use and what they know about them to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. This would allow health providers to evaluate certain conditions if they happen to arise in people near fracking sites.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com; mshapiro@jewishtimes.com