Purim for All

From left: Leslie Goldberg, Elaine Gerstenfeld and Adriana Steinberg. Gerstenfeld is holding the Purim Unity Extravaganza on March 16 to bring together Jews of all denominations and backgrounds. (Photo Provided)

From left: Leslie Goldberg, Elaine Gerstenfeld and Adriana Steinberg. Gerstenfeld is holding the Purim Unity Extravaganza on March 16 to bring together Jews of all denominations and backgrounds. (Photo Provided)

For Elaine Gerstenfeld, Purim is a tale of Jewish unity.

In the biblical story, Queen Esther gathered the Jews to unite against Haman, a royal official on a mission to kill the Jews of Persia.

“When he describes the Jews, he describes them as divided and dispersed,” explained Gerstenfeld, who is organizing the second annual Purim Unity Extravaganza at the Greenspring Shopping Center’s Atrium on Sunday, March 16 at 1 p.m. “Unity seemed to be the essence of the story in terms of our being saved from this.”

The Jews looked internally when an external threat faced them back then, something Gerstenfeld feels resonates even today with Iran, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment threatening the Jewish people.

“If you’re Jewish, be there,” she said of her event. “We should stand together and say, ‘We are one people.’”

The event features a short Purim carnival with music, a balloon artist, temporary face tattoos and prizes for the best disguises. From 1:45 p.m. until 3 p.m., participants will split up into smaller groups to deliver shelach manot, traditional baskets of food, to elderly members of the Jewish community in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Jewish Volunteer Connection, which collaborated on the event last year, determines which facilities the smaller groups will visit. The organization is always looking to help senior facilities, said executive director Ashley Pressman.

“Isolation is a big issue,” she explained. “I think people just love to know that somebody cares, getting a visitor and something sweet to eat.”

Leslie Goldberg, who is new to the event this year, is helping get the word out to the Reform and Conservative communities and soliciteddonations for the shelach manot. Donations came from Safeway, Mars, Giant, Fresh Market, Wegmans, Miller’s Delicatessen, The Knish Shop and Gourmet Again. Volunteers from Etz Chaim’s WOW! program are packing the baskets, and Accents and Cocoaccinos donated the space for the event.

Goldberg said she didn’t have to push the donors to get involved.

“It was not a twist [of the] arm,” she remarked. “They were definitely on board.”

Adriana Steinberg, a friend of Gerstenfeld’s, saw the theme of unity among last year’s attendees.

“I really love the fact that we had different people in the community with different backgrounds and interests and even ways of living all together bounded by this desire to celebrate Purim and the mitzvah of delivering shelach manot,” she said.

Her three children, 5, 4 and 1, helped give out the shelach manot last year and loved the experience.

“They loved singing; they had also drawn some pictures and given them out,” recalled Steinberg. “They loved visiting ‘bubbies’ and ‘zaydies,’ as they like to call them.”

For Gerstenfeld, who lives and breathes this event, it’s about knocking “down the walls that divide us.”

“I really want to inspire us to look beyond our differences and to realize whoever the person is, everyone has a special mission,” she said. “We can learn from each other.”

Attendees can enter into a grand prize raffle by preregistering and emailing seebeyondthemask@gmail.com or visiting facebook.com/seebeyondthemask.


Soul Daughter Sings

Neshama Carlebach (Photo Michael Albany)

Neshama Carlebach (Photo Michael Albany)

At 39, Neshama Carlebach says she is seeing herself clearly for the first time. The daughter of the legendary “Singing Rabbi,” Shlomo Carlebach, and a successful vocal artist in her own right, she will perform at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia on March 8. As Beth Shalom’s scholar-in-residence, and in observance of Shabbat Across America and Canada — a continentwide event to unite Jews of all denominations — Carlebach also will participate in and perform at a congregational Shabbat dinner on Friday night, March 7 and during Friday and Saturday morning Shabbat services that weekend.

Ivy Konel, Beth Shalom’s president, said that the congregation has long included Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s music in its services.

“We are so excited to have Neshama come to Beth Shalom,” said Konel. “It will be a great way to reconnect with one another.”

The performances come in advance of Neshama Carlebach’s new album, “Soul Daughter,” which features music from “Soul Doctor,” the 2013 Broadway musical about her father that she co-created. Carlebach said the album, to be released later this spring, reflects her inward journey.

“I am just coming back to work after a year off, and I’m feeling very serious about my Jewish journey,” she said. “There have been a lot of changes in my life, and I’ve become a bit disenfranchised from the Modern Orthodoxy with which I grew up.”

In addition to her religious transformation, Carlebach said she has been dealing with the end of her marriage and finally coming to grips with the death of her father, who passed away 20 years ago.

“After my father died, my first solo concert came 30 days later. I sang through death, pregnancies and two babies,” she said. “I started singing at 20 and never before had the heart to stop and look at my life. I mourned my father for the first time, and I dealt with my deepest self. It was a gift.

“When I decided to turn the light on, I had to be honest with myself,” she continued. “I couldn’t ignore the fact that much of my life was wrong. Like many other people are, I was a stranger to myself. It’s been the most painful but the most worthwhile time in my life.”

In December, Carlebach made headlines in the Jewish media when she announced her “aliyah” to Reform Judaism. The announcement was lauded by some and criticized by others, but Carlebach is quick to point out that both she and her late father have been known to step outside the boundaries of Orthodox Judaism before.

“When I was growing up, my father was always on the edge, and he was often attacked for his choices,” she explained. “He searched for a new path and looked for ways to unite. He got into a lot of trouble. It was only after he died that many of his detractors accepted him.”

Recently, Carlebach became the first woman to sing for the March of the Living, a Holocaust education program that takes participants to the sites of concentration camps in Poland and then on to Israel. She also performed in Japan as part of an interfaith program called Prayer for Peace.

For the past eight years, Carlebach has collaborated with Rev. Roger Hambrick and the Green Pastures Baptist Choir. The album, “Higher & Higher,” that grew out of the musical collaboration was an official entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards. Carlebach said she feels most Jewish and closest to God when singing with the choir.

Carlebach’s new album was produced by Josh Nelson, another frequent collaborator. She described the music on the recording as vulnerable, organic and more contemporary than her previous records.

“My band is incredible; they’re some of the best musicians in New York,” she said. When she performs at Beth Shalom, Carlebach will be performing songs from the new album.

“I feel very blessed to be able to offer my music, and I’m looking forward to coming” to the Baltimore area, she said. “Expect to be moved.”


Jewish Museum Buys Building Next to Synagogue

The new purchase will allow the Jewish Museum to install an elevator for the synagogue’s handicapped visitors. (Google Maps)

The new purchase will allow the Jewish Museum to install an elevator for the synagogue’s handicapped visitors. (Google Maps)

The Jewish Museum of Maryland purchased the warehouse directly north of the Lloyd Street Synagogue at an auction in late February.

The 4,800-square foot warehouse, located at 5 Lloyd Street, will allow handicap access to the Lloyd Street Synagogue, said Marvin Pinkert, the museum’s executive director. The purchase price at the Feb. 27 auction was $315,000.

“We have been talking about the question of the surrounding area to the museum for some time,” said Pinkert. “The building has been mentioned a number of times because, realistically, it’s the only space that would permit … ADA access to the historic synagogue so you wouldn’t have to invade the historic space.”

The new acquisition will allow the museum to install an elevator that would bring handicapped visitors into the synagogue. Pinkert expects the Lloyd Street Synagogue, which was built in 1845, to remain the cornerstone of the museum into the future.

Two of the four buildings owned by the museum — the main museum building and Lenny’s Deli on Lombard Street — are ADA accessible, but the Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel Congregation, a modern Orthodox synagogue, are not.

Pinkert said the museum, which is enjoying a 32 percent increase in visitors since last year, is working with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore on a plan for the building. Possibilities include using it for storage or knocking it down and building a new structure, he said.


Minimum Wage Bill Passes Committee

030714_Minimum-Wage-Bill-Passes-CommitteeMaryland is one step closer to becoming the 22nd state to raise the minimum wage above the federal standard of $7.25.

The House Economic Matters Committee voted 13 to 8 on March 3 to approve legislation backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley that would raise the minimum hourly wage to $10.10 over the course of the next three years.

“No one who works full time should have to raise their family in poverty,” O’Malley said in a statement after the bill was approved. “I commend the members of the committee for their hard work, and I look forward to the bill advancing to a vote before the full House of Delegates.”

The bill didn’t make it through without a couple changes though. Instead of the original July 1, 2014 effective date, the first hike — to $8.20 — will be pushed back to Jan. 1, 2015; and additional hikes — to $9.15 and then $10.10 — will take effect on Jan. 1 of the two subsequent years.

Additionally, exemptions were made for the restaurant industry and businesses with gross incomes less than $250,000. Wages for tipped workers will remain at a minimum $3.63 and employers will be responsible for making up the difference if employees don’t make enough in tips to reach the $10.10 mark. The automatic increase related to inflation, which would have taken effect after 2017 in the original proposal, was also stripped.


Jacob Levin

030714_Jacob-Levin-obitJacob (Jake) Levin was known to family and friends as a man with a huge heart of gold. Levin died March 1 at the age of 98.

Many remember him from his years behind the counter at Levin’s Bakery on Patterson Park and Fairmount avenues or from his longtime membership in the Jewish Educational Alliance. Still, others knew him as the “mayor” of the Envoy of Pikesville, where he was a resident in his last few years.

Levin was quick to offer a warm smile and ready with a joke, always willing to brighten someone’s day.

Family was with him every day at the Envoy and even if he was feeling frail or a bit under the weather, he always had a kind word and showed great care toward others. Levin was also very proud of his Jewish faith, said family members and friends.

At a young age, Levin sold bread and rolls door-to-door to help out the family business during tough times before he was old enough to work at the bakery. When he returned from serving four-and-half years in the military during World War II, he and his wife, Charlotte, took over the bakery from his parents and brought it to greater success. Levin’s Bakery — eventually Levin Brothers — was a fixture in the Jewish community.

Levin created a successful business, raised a caring family, showed unwavering dedication to his parents and served in two wars.

Steve Levin, his son, described his father’s legacy very simply: “He’s led an ordinary life in a very extraordinary way.”

Levin was husband of the late Charlotte Levin (nee Katzoff); father of Stephen Levin and Anita Levin (Harold) Felinton; brother of Irvin (Louise) Levin; grandfather of Joseph Golden and Sara (Adam) Pearlstein; and great-grandfather of Hayden Pearlstein.


That’s Debatable

Pikesville Branch, Baltimore County Public Library  (Photo David Stuck)

Pikesville Branch, Baltimore County Public Library (Photo David Stuck)

It’s rare that the left-leaning J Street, a 5-year-old political advocacy organization that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the conservative voice in the room. But that was the case on a recent Sunday, when about 75 people gathered at the Pikesville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library to hear Mark Gunnery of the Jewish Voice for Peace and Rebecca Kirzner, J Street’s mid-Atlantic director, debate the merits of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, the Feb. 16 gathering in the library’s meeting room did not include a presence from the much-larger American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which will have its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of March. The event was moderated by the BJCC’s co-president, Bob Jacobson, who noted that his organization does not hold a position on the global BDS campaign that has resulted in several sectors of academia boycotting Israeli professors and high-profile boycotts of businesses in the West Bank.

Jacobson brought with him a handwritten sign that read “Choose Civility,” a nod to the strong emotions that debate on the conflict typically evokes. As it turned out, there was little need for the sign; the crowd was remarkably calm and respectful. Each side spoke for between 15 and 20 minutes, and a long question-and-answer period followed.

Gunnery, who grew up in Pikesville as a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation and attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan High School, began his presentation by referencing the hypocrisy he sees in the Jewish community’s response to the Middle East crisis.

“I came up with values like respect for human rights, concern for my fellow human being, the need for justice, the yearning for peace. … I learned that the world is ruptured and full of conflict and that it is my responsibility as a human and as a Jew to work toward healing,” he said. “I learned that Jews historically have been at the forefront of struggles for social justice … that we’ve organized in the labor, feminist, environmental, civil rights and gay rights movements; we’ve protested against countless wars; we’ve fought for equality and peace whenever inequality and violence stood in the way. But I also learned that when it came to Israel, it was a different story.”

Gunnery went on to say that JVP supports the use of boycotts, divestments and sanctions designed to influence Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. He explained that JVP’s goals are ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, equality for Arab Israelis and respecting Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

The BDS campaign has earned headlines in recent months due to the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli universities. Conversely, a bill under consideration in the Maryland legislature would disallow public funding for departments in the state university system that support the BDS campaign.

Kirzner, a former Philadelphia public school teacher, shared J Street’s perspective.

“J Street is a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that supports U.S. advocacy for a negotiated two-state solution for Israel and Palestine,” she said, explaining that her organization opposes the BDS campaign because J Street believes boycotts undermine the achievement of a solution “where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security.”

“The two-state solution is the only answer,” said Kirzner. “The BDS movement is agnostic on the issue of a two-state solution, and for me that’s a nonstarter. … The reality on the ground is that this is a conflict between two competing narratives, two competing nationalist narratives, two populations who have claims on the same piece of land and two populations who want their own states.”

Kirzner said that Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic efforts have brought Israel and the Palestinians closer than ever to a solution; she urged American Jews to support the secretary in any way possible.


Home Invasion Shakes Pikesville Community

(Google Maps)

(Google Maps)

A man and his teenage daughter were tied up and robbed after two men forced their way into a home in the 3200 block of Hatton Road in Pikesville Tuesday night.

The men stole computer tablets, jewelry, a camcorder, a wallet, cash, an iPod Touch and a cell phone, according to a statement from Baltimore County police. The suspects moved a television, but did not take it, and fled the scene after the man told them he activated the home’s alarm, police said.

Nathan Willner, a Shomrim spokesman, said the Northern Park Heights community has never seen this type of crime.

“This is extremely frightening and we’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “It’s definitely shaken the community to its core.”

Police believe this may be related to an incident that occurred earlier that evening in the 700 block of Leafydale Terrace in Pikesville.

In the Hatton Road incident, the men knocked on the door at 8:15 p.m., and one was holding an empty cup and asked for some water. The man who answered the door took the cup, and turned to go to the kitchen, at which point the two men entered the home. One of them brandished a handgun, forced the man and his teenage daughter into the living room, tied them up and robbed them, police said. They suffered minor injuries that did not require transport to a medical facility, police said.

Police responded to the scene at 8:36 p.m.

At 7:50 p.m. Tuesday, two men wearing masks and armed with handguns approached a man getting out of his car in front of a home in the 700 block of Leafydale Terrace. They took the man’s cell phone and wallet, walked him to a nearby house and went inside. The robbers noticed many people inside the home, and fled the scene towards Milford Mill Road after one of them commented that there were too many people there, according to police.

The Baltimore County Police Pikesville Precinct Investigative Services Team are investigating the incidents and trying to determine if the victims were targeted, police said.

Shomrim President Ronnie Rosenbluth said that crime in the neighborhood has progressed over the past year from shed break-ins, to burglaries when residents are not home, to burglaries while residents sleep, to this recent incident.

“I haven’t heard of anything like this in the last 25 years in our neighborhood,” he said.

After Shomrim received a call from the family at 8:41 p.m., Rosenbluth sent Shomrim members to the home. Shomrim received another call from a family that said two suspicious men had knocked on their door, and Rosenbluth relayed the description of the men to Shomrim members at the scene, who relayed it to police.

“We followed through and somebody checked in on the family again last night, and we’re hoping these guys get caught,” Rosenbluth said.

He estimated that Shomrim had more than a dozen people on the street last night looking for possible suspects to help police in their investigation.

In the Leafydale Terrace incident, one suspect was described as a black male, 30 to 40 years old, 6 feet tall, was wearing a black leather jacket, ski mask and dark blue jeans and had a silver handgun. The second suspect was described as a black male, 18 to 26 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, was wearing a black jacket, ski mask, black jeans, brown boots and had a dark colored handgun, police said.

In the Hatton Road incident, one suspect is described as a black male, 28 to 30 years old, six feet tall, wearing a black parka-style jacket, a brown mask that covered his face from the nose down, black pants and brown work boots, and had a silver handgun. The second suspect was described as a black male, 18 to 20 years old, 5 feet 10 inches, wearing a black jacket, black mask that covered his face from the nose down and black pants, police said.

Police reminded residents to not open the door for strangers and to report suspicious activity to police. Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to call Baltimore County Police at 410-887-1279.

AIPAC Shapes Priorities

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his views known at this year’s AIPAC conference. (© Xinhua/ZUMApress.com)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his views known at this year’s AIPAC conference.
(© Xinhua/ZUMApress.com)

Coming off of what many observers characterized as an off year in terms of getting its agenda implemented in Washington, D.C., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will be welcoming upward of 14,000 attendees at the March 1-4 annual policy conference that will set the pro-Israel organization’s 2014 initiatives.

Chief among the organization’s priority items likely will be the United States’ continued negotiations aimed at preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and the emerging contours of a possible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry. But in a midterm election year that could prove pivotal for the powerful, secretive and much-maligned lobbying organization, the policy wonks, politicians, students and supporters who are descending on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center will surely keep in mind the fact that of the ambitious legislative and foreign policy agenda set at the 2013 policy conference, the push for increased Iranian sanctions was ultimately stymied by the White House and a call for U.S. military intervention in Syria apparently failed to move Congress.

If last year’s conference focused primarily on legislation, one former AIPAC staff observed, this year should be more about solidifying AIPAC’s position and reinvigorating the grassroots campaigning that made the organization into the most visible, pro-Israel group in Washington. But it will also serve as an essential venue for the administration — through the voice of invited speakers Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew — and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pitch their respective positions, both having butted heads with each other and AIPAC lobbying last year.

Although AIPAC did not make a complete schedule available to the news media, other confirmed speakers include House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), Knesset Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and former Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.

In the presidential election year of 2012, the AIPAC policy conference set a record with 13,000 attendees. Both President Barack Obama and the GOP frontrunner that year, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, addressed the body.

AIPAC’s lost battles in 2013 prompted reports of waning influence from media outlets such as The New York Times, which in early February termed AIPAC’s momentum as “blunted.” But in a phone call with the Washington Jewish Week, Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the group, brushed off the rumors of a weakened AIPAC. He said that while AIPAC had indeed publicly backed off from its campaign on behalf of the Menendez-Kirk Nuclear Free Iran bill in order to remain bipartisan, the appearance of waffling on Iran should instead be seen as a longtime commitment in building common ground on Capitol Hill.

“AIPAC always had very strong representation on major initiatives from both parties. They didn’t have enough Democrats because the White House put intense pressure on them not to sign on,” Amitay said of the push for increased Iranian sanctions. “When I was at AIPAC, every Senate initiative we did started off with five democrats and five republicans — whether Republicans or Democrats were in the White House.

“This president is a disaster with regard to his foreign policy,” continued Amitay. “The reality is, [the Iran issue] had to be a bipartisan effort, and through the administration’s blandishments, threats and promises, they kept a lot of Democrats off.”

If one were to consider a Feb. 21 op-ed co-written by AIPAC president Michael Kassen and chairman of the board Lee Rosenberg in The Times as a sign, AIPAC’s agenda will still be focused on the negotiations with Iran.

AIPAC and its supporters could focus on the loopholes in the current multilateral framework with Iran known as the Joint Plan of Action, which even the State Department concedes leaves room for Iran to continue a limited nuclear program — something unacceptable to Israel, AIPAC and many members of Congress. Without calling for a direct congressional vote, AIPAC could reaffirm the need for sanctions and a military option on the table as a credible threat in case negotiations fail.

“Some opponents of such a policy crudely characterize its proponents as warmongers and fret that Tehran will walk away from the table. But the critics have it backward,” Kassen and Rosenberg wrote.

“The approach we outline offers the best chance to avoid military conflict with Iran. In fact, diplomacy that is not backed by the threat of clear consequences poses the greatest threat to negotiations — and increases prospects for war — because it tells the Iranians they have nothing to lose by embracing an uncompromising position.”

The Obama administration will also have to set out its goals in a year where control of Congress is up for grabs, even if the White House’s positions are in opposition to AIPAC’s new lobbying agenda. The administration is expected to encourage AIPAC to back off its efforts in Congress for bills on Iran, while Kerry likely will lay out what he sees as progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Netanyahu should also have a more urgent appeal this year, as only months remain before an expected peace agreement. Netanyahu will try to persuade AIPAC that the extent of Palestinian unwillingness to make tough concessions, such as recognizing Israel as a “Jewish” state, acquiescing to security concerns along the Jordan Valley and the Palestinian Authority’s insistence on a the “right of return” of refugees.

Like many in the Israeli government, Amitay shares a grim outlook on the peace process.

“They’ve been peace processing since the 1967 war, but you have one side — mainly the Palestinians — who cannot accept minimal security arrangements,” said Amitay. “And then who’s speaking for Gaza? What’s ridiculous is that they talk about Israeli and Palestinian peace while a big chunk of the Palestinians who live in Gaza say ‘no way.’ “

Fred Zeidman, vice chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former member of the executive committee of AIPAC, says that the precariousness of AIPAC’s position is nothing new.

“AIPAC has taken unpopular positions before,” he said. “There’s been a good reason why they’ve done it, and I would never second guess them. In the long run, they’ve certainly survived them.

“I think they have done the most remarkable job at keeping the American Jewish community attached to Israel, and I think they ought to be highly commended,” he continued. “The numbers [of attendees] they’re talking about this time certainly speaks to that.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com / JNS.org contributed to this story.

Hadassah’s Woes Continue

022814_Hadassahs-Woes-ContinueThe dust may have settled at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, but the underlying financial troubles that caused workers to go on strike earlier this month remain, as an organization that predates the State of Israel struggles to move on.

Staffers at the two Hadassah hospitals in the Jerusalem enclaves of Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus returned to work on Feb. 19 following a two-week strike protesting unpaid wages and the financial disarray of the Hadassah Medical Organization. One of Israel’s largest private hospital managers, the group, according to Haaretz, currently is running a $360 million deficit.

Despite the workers’ return — who ended their strike after hospital administrators and the workers’ union agreed to gradual reductions in pay for higher-paid staff and a delay until mid-April of any requisite layoffs — the medical organization and the American institution that founded and owns both hospitals find themselves playing a prominent role in an Israeli reassessment of privatized health care and corporate mismanagement.

Standing as somewhat of an anomaly amid an otherwise socialist health care system, HMO is managed by an executive board, most of whose seats are held by Hadassah International, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The president of the international body, Marcie Natan, admits that the hospitals made critical management mistakes but that Hadassah has long been engaged in a process of reform.

“We brought in PricewaterhouseCoopers about 10 or 11 months ago to do a study using a team of experts from the U.S. and Israel working together,” Natan, who represents an estimated 330,000 members around the world, offered in a phone conversation with Washington Jewish Week from Israel. They “looked at the structure here at the hospital and made recommendations to put it on the road to a full recovery.”

The team recommended that HMO cut 550 members of the hospitals’ staff, of which 250 have already been cut; salary reductions for highly paid doctors; reforming private visitation contracts; renegotiating union contracts; and increasing more lucrative services such as maternity care.

The group made clear that none of the reforms would end HMO’s deficit problems without renegotiating contracts with the state-supported health insurance funds. Such contracts make up the greatest part of an Israeli hospital’s operating budget.

Natan said that every hospital negotiates a three-year contract with health funds and that when HMO negotiated its last set of contracts, they provided deeper discounts for services offered at Hadassah Medical Center — 25 to 26 percent — instead of the usual 18 percent at other private hospitals in the hope of capturing a larger market share of patients.

“In retrospect, that was not a good decision on the part of HMO’s management because it actually cost the hospital money to service the patients,” said Natan, adding that negotiators agreed to the concession knowing that they could renegotiate three years later.

According to Natan, since then, the government put a freeze on all contract negotiations to stem the rising cost of benefits, leaving HMO with an unsustainable discount.

David Chinitz, professor of health policy and management at the school of public health at Hebrew University-Hadassah, said that part of the problem is the lack of accountability in the Israeli financial system.

“The Israeli Ministry of Finance and the Budget Department is known for being neo-liberal, and that means they want to constrain the public budget,” explained Chinitz. “But on the other hand, their style is very centralist and I would say almost Bolshevik. They want to keep control so they negotiate the wages, they set the prices, and these things that they do create different kinds of strains and stresses on the health funds and on the hospitals.”

Similar to the insurance exchanges brought about by health care reform in the United States, Israeli health funds came out of the country’s 1995 reforms dependent upon yearly government allotments meant to cover their expected costs.

“Israel has actually implemented the model that America has been after for more than 20 years, and it’s done it quite well,” said Chinitz. “The problem is the overall political economy structure and public administration in Israel — and in particular, the centralized control of the ministry of finance over wages, over prices; it doesn’t let this nicely designed system work in a smooth fashion.”

Another criticism of HMO’s management results from the higher-than-average salaries paid to doctors. Natan described this decision as necessary to establish the quality of health care Hadassah members envisioned.

“Jerusalem is not the city that attracts young up-and-coming doctors; they’re much more comfortable and much happier in the Tel Aviv area,” argued Natan. Hadassah, “understanding that we wanted a hospital that would be the leading institution here in Israel, was comfortable with management making agreements with the doctors that did give them more than they would have gotten if they’d gone somewhere in Tel Aviv.”

Though a private institution, Hadassah Medical Center prides itself for serving everyone like a public hospital — no matter how critical patients’ conditions or where they are from — as envisioned by Hadassah pioneers. Natan said that the hospital often sees the most critical conditions, despite health funds paying the same rate no matter how long the patient stays in the hospital or how many staff members are needed to provide care.

Hadassah donors and members are the largest single funding source for the hospitals, with a total yearly contribution averaging around $85 million for capital, operational and research expenses.

“If the [Israeli] government isn’t prepared to help in some significant way, no matter what this hospital does, we cannot continue to maintain it as a state-of-the-art research and clinical care facility,” said Natan, highlighting how Hadassah’s hospitals serve as the Hebrew University’s medical school.

Chinitz agreed.

“If the government decides to raise the wages of physicians in their hospital, it’s no skin off their nose because the Ministry of Finance is going to pay, but for Hadassah, where’s the money going to come from?” he said. “Hadassah has it worse because it doesn’t have the safety net either of the government or a health fund.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com /JNS.org contributed to this story.

Ukraine’s Jews Hunker Down

An American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee worker, pictured above  in a white helmet, enters the tense Independence Square area of Kiev on Feb. 22. (JDC)

An American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee worker, pictured above in
a white helmet, enters the tense
Independence Square area of Kiev
on Feb. 22.

The turmoil in Ukraine has left one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities on edge.

After an outbreak of violence in Kiev last week that left dozens of protesters and policemen dead, President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital, and parliament installed an interim leader to take the still-contested reins of power.

Like their compatriots, Ukraine’s Jews are waiting to see what the future holds for their country but with the added fear that they could become targets amid the chaos. There have been a few isolated anti-Semitic incidents over the past few months of civil strife. On Sunday night in the eastern city of Zaporizhia, a synagogue was firebombed with Molotov cocktails, causing minor damage.

While Kiev has been relatively calm since Yanukovych fled the capital, the situation in the country’s eastern and southern regions, where he has his base of support, is more volatile. Tensions between the local governments and revolutionaries continue to rise in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has a relatively sizable Jewish community.

“It’s still a very fluid situation,” said Mark Levin, chairman of the NCSJ, an American organization that advocates for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. “The big concern, I think, is ensuring that there’s adequate security for Jewish institutions throughout the country, but particularly in the large cities.”

Levin also expressed concern that with elections slated for May 25, a fut-ure government could result in ultranationalists gaining power in Ukraine. Svoboda, a right-wing nationalist party, was prominent in the protest movement, and party officials have expressed virulently anti-Semitic sentiments.

Thus far, though, the conflict has not been marked by incitement against Ukraine’s multiple national minorities, Oksana Galkevich, a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, said from Kharkiv last Friday.

“The overall situation in relation to the Jewish community in Ukraine is tolerant and peaceful,” said Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, in a statement issued this past Monday.

Estimates of the size of Ukraine’s Jewish community vary widely between 70,000 Jews to 400,000.

Over the past few months, many Jewish institutions have simply gone into hibernation, suspending activity during the turmoil. But others have carried on their work under heavy security.

The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, which runs the Orach Chaim Day School in Kiev and several other institutions, has been paying $1,000 a day for round-the-clock security, according to Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, the confederation’s president and a Ukrainian chief rabbi.

“Nobody goes alone at night, so we have three people doing escorts from the synagogue and back,” he said last week.

The guards have chased off a few trespassers but encountered no serious threats in Kiev. But the cost — 10 times what the community used to pay for security before the violence erupted — means the community cannot afford this level of security for much longer.

The Joint Distribution Committee also has promoted security measures to protect staff and volunteers. After the firebombing of the Zaporizhia synagogue, JDC reinforced security measures for its charity organization in the city.

The JDC has been continuing to provide assistance to elderly and homebound Jews living in areas of Ukraine that have been affected by the unrest.

Bleich’s community has launched an online campaign on religious websites in the United States aimed at collecting additional funds. The Lauder Foundation is providing payment for security in three community-run schools.

“Most communities don’t do any act-ivity that involves congregating,” said Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

Rabbi Moshe Azman of Kiev, who is another claimant to the title of chief rabbi of Ukraine, advised Jews in media interviews to keep a low profile until the situation calms down.