Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Disabled in Israel ... the implications

I want to add a few more thoughts from an earlier post about the Disabled in Israel.

There are some serious implications about these high rates, and what they mean not just on an individual level, but as a reflection of what our social priorities are.

Here are four of the findings from the research done by my colleagues at Myers-JDC-Brookdale:

First, many of the disabled do have social networks, but they also have higher rates of isolation 
 14% of all working-age adults with disabilities and 25% of those with severe disabilities report frequent feelings of loneliness, compared with only 4% of people without disabilities.
 26% of people with severe disabilities report having no friends, compared with 7% of people without disabilities.

Second, many have achieved higher education, but at much lower rates than adults without disabilities 
 46% of all working-age adults with disabilities, and 34% of working-age adults with severe disabilities, have received a high-school matriculation certificate, compared with 64% of adults without disabilities.
 Only 20% of adults with severe disabilities have post-secondary education, compared with 38% of adults without disabilities.

Third, about half of working-age adults with disabilities work, but many more want to 
 52% of working-age adults with disabilities and 32% of people with severe disabilities are employed, compared with 74% in the general working-age adult population.
 Of those working-age adults with disabilities who are not working, 45% are looking for work or are ready to begin work immediately if they were offered a job.
 Satisfaction is high with the type of work and with work colleagues, but far less so with wages and prospects for advancement.

And finally - and maybe most importantly - the disabled face significantly greater economic hardships 
 Adults with disabilities who work earn an average gross monthly wage of NIS 6,361, and adults with severe disabilities earn a monthly average of NIS 5,000. This is compared with NIS 8,201 for people with no disabilities.
 Only 34% of working-age adults with severe disabilities report being able to meet monthly household expenses, compared with 64% of adults without disabilities.
 24% of working-age adults with disabilities did not buy necessary medicine because of the cost, compared with 10% of adults without disabilities.

If you want more information and sources on these findings, message me, or contact my colleagues at Myers-JDC-Brookdale. If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email (about twice a week, depending on what else I'm up to), sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Argentinians are Italians speaking Spanish who pretend to be British

There were a lot of fascinating stories and anecdotes from our Strategic Partnerships Mission to Argentina this past week. One throwaway comment, in particular, really struck me. It was made by a macroeconomist who spoke with our group. I asked him what would be the wisest thing he does – as an economist – for his family living in Argentina.

I’ll get to his response in a moment. But first, a bit of framing.

There's so much uncertainty in the Argentinian economic climate right now. The official exchange rate is 4.5 pesos to the dollar – but the real “blue market” exchange rate is more like 9 pesos to the dollar. The official inflation rate is 10% … but most economists will tell you that the real inflation rate is more like 25%. Imagine trying to get a business loan, or a mortgage, when you don’t know (or: your lender doesn't know) what the rates will be like in six months time? The answer is, you can’t.

And when the government started to limit the purchase of dollars in 2009, most analysts saw this move as pretty much like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Foreign investment ran away, the middle class shifted their assets abroad … and the economy changed forever.

The good news ... is that even if we’ll see another recession in the next twelve months (which is probable) … it won’t look like what we saw in 2001-2002. The main reason is that the Argentinian economy has changed so much since then: there was major “Chinese” growth (9%+) for some years, strong import-substitutions, a solid tourism base has been built up, and … most interestingly, so many of the middle-class have moved their funds out of the country. So the scale of impact is going to look different next time. If there is a next time.

Explaining the economics of Argentina, and how people who cheat on taxes are more celebrated than disparaged, our presenter said, “Argentinians are Italians speaking Spanish who pretend to be British.” That’s a fascinating statement of national identity (and there are layers and layers of meaning behind his comment, too).

But more importantly, I asked him what does he, as an economist, think the smartest thing he can do to protect his family?
“That’s easy,” he said. “We don’t buy any clothes in Argentina. We buy our clothes in outlet malls in New Jersey. That’s the smartest thing I do as an economist.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

JDC Strategic Partnerships Mission to Argentina 2013

 Our intrepid group, overlooking the Iguazu Falls, on the border between Argentina and Brazil
 The beautiful Agam kinetic structure at the entrance of the AMIA building

Kids reading at the Baby Help program, Buenos Aires

Eva is everywhere.

Outside the Presidential Palace

Above and to the right: at the LeDor VaDor Old Age Home. Inside the home is the Baby Help program (Viviana, at right, is showing the herb garden where children and the elderly tend the plants together). It's an amazing place.

Above and to the right: at the Recoleta Cemetery (and Eva Peron's mausoleum)

At the Tel Aviv School, supported and managed by JDC

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Argentinian economy. Oh, and an unfunny joke.

We had a fascinating briefing in Buenos Aires from an economist, who delved into the whats and whys of Argentina’s economic collapse in 2001 … and the possibilities of a forthcoming crisis.

What I found particularly interesting was to hear his comments after having lunch with my inspiring colleague, Jorge Schulman, JDC’s Argentina Country Director. Jorge noted that Argentina is unique for the Joint in one special way. In other Latin American countries, Jewish community members say to us “you saved us,” meaning that we rescued them from DP Camps and the Shoah. But here in Argentina they say to us “you saved us” and we know they’re referring to the 2001-2 Collapse.

There's no question that 2001 was the “1930s” Great Depression of Argentina.  The difference, though, is that in the US we had a stable government – in Argentina they went through five presidents in one week. The devaluation was so massive that the peso dropped 75% in one night, and GDP dropped 25%.

Why did all this happen? There are a lot of immediate causes, but the explanation I found really fascinating was the psychological one. The economist, same age as me (let’s say “early 40s”) has lived through five major crises. Not recessions, but full-blown meltdown crises. 
Argentina, he thinks, has no real checks and balances on its money, its finances and its economic health.

There’s a lot behind this statement. It gives you an idea about how Argentinians think about money, how they save, and how they worry.  I’ll try to write some more about this down the line, but in the meantime, here’s a joke I heard in various formats when people tried to explain the crisis in 2001. True, it’s not a very funny joke and I know, you've probably heard it before, but the fact that several people told it (and not always in a clean version) is revealing …

-          How’s the current crisis going?
-          No problem -  I sleep like a baby.
-          Really?
-          Yes, I wake up every three hours crying.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My favorite story of the week (so far)

Here in Buenos Aires on our JDC Strategic Partnerships mission, we were privileged to meet with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rector of the Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano. He’s a personal friend of Pope Francis, and also an impressive Jewish leader and a terrific storyteller.

We sat in his offices for a fascinating conversation about Jewish life and leadership in Argentina. About the challenges and the pluralism that the Jewish community faces today. And about the Pope.

Rabbi Skorka has been invited, since the 1990s, to the annual Te Deum festival, celebrating Argentina’s independence.  The festival is hosted by the Archbishop and includes Argentinian religious leaders to show unity and dialogue. He and Archbishop Bergoglio regularly exchanged greetings, even before Jose Bergoglio rose to the position of Archbishop and then Pope. But some years ago, Bergoglio changed the order of greetings so that he could show more respect to other religious leaders. The Archbishop and the Rabbi would regularly exchange a comment about the River Plate soccer team (‘the chickens’) – Rabbi Skorka’s favorite team – and the San Lorenzo team, favored by the Archbishop.  Alas, the chickens were never a very successful team.

Rabbi Skorka said this one time, after quoting a passage from Jeremiah and a brief comment on theology, he admitted that San Lorenzo had ended their round with a very good position. “I guess this year we’ll all be eating chicken soup,” he said.

Noticing the Papal Nuncio’s shock at the use of a slang word that could have been interpreted as rude, Archbishop Bergoglio hasted to assure the Nuncio that they were just chatting about soccer. Even though the President of Argentina was waiting impatiently for the Archbishop to lead the procession, he and the Rabbi carried on with their joke.

That’s how the friendship between the Rabbi and the Pope began. Rabbi Skorka is in regular contact with the Pope, and even stayed in his private apartment in Rome this past year.  The Pope, he says, is a man of deep integrity and warmth. What he says and does is what he feels.

It was a wonderful meeting, and a real privilege to meet Rabbi Skorka and hear his stories.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why am I in Argentina?

I’m here in Buenos Aires, staffing a JDC Strategic Partnerships Mission with a small group of dedicated and inquisitive JDC supporters and philanthropists. 
I’ll write some mission notes up over the next few days, but I wanted to write down at least a few introductory thoughts ….

I wanted to bring a mission down here because, for me at least, Argentina is a microcosm of the Jewish world and the work we do. Our values of community empowerment, mutual responsibility, repairing the world … all are at play here and reflect our ongoing commitment. And the vitality and resilience of this community are amazing qualities to see and absorb.

What I found fascinating so far is that our definition of community here rests on a unique blend that takes into account both individuals and institutions. And here in Argentina, the institutions have always been the backbone and strength of the community. 

And then you think about the 2001 economic collapse, as a result of which the Joint scaled up its programs to provide employment programs, welfare programs and community renewal.

When you think about how quickly the Joint had to turn on a dime in late 2001 here, there's another message too. JDC’s total Latin America staff went from 12 to 150, and the budget grew from $100,000 fiftyfold as a result of the massive economic collapse! What it means is – I think – when we’re called upon to serve, we need to answer the call. And when the work is done, we can phase down, and empower local partners to step back up again.

All of this is happening here in Argentina. So I’m privileged to be staffing this mission. 

Incriminating photos of tango dancing, wonderful hospitality and more may yet be forthcoming …

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I’m on my way to Argentina to staff a Strategic Partnerships Mission. But one meeting from last week was particularly important, and I wanted to write a few thoughts down while it’s still fresh.

I had the privilege and opportunity to run a “storytelling” presentation to a group from National Young Leadership Cabinet, of the Jewish Federations of North America. We were some 30 people in the room, and I spoke for some 45 minutes about how I put stories together, how I make my “case” to an audience, and – maybe most importantly for many people – how I overcome “stage fright” and stand up in front of a crowd.

And in the discussion we had, I made a point that I want to bring up here. Good storytelling is like good presentations, and good public speaking, and good solicitations … it’s all about the audience, and the audience’s needs. It’s not about you. And it’s not about how awesome and great you are, and the work that you do.
It’s about how awesome and great the audience is, for connecting with you. It’s about how you are implementing their values and their ideals.

And even more importantly: the best kind of storytelling is the passionate, dedicated type. 
Formal, long-winded, reading-from-a-text … that stuff is a killer. If you don’t love what you’re doing, and you don’t find what you’re doing particularly interesting – everyone’s going to see it, and hear it in your voice, and pick up on your body language, within seconds. 

But if you love it, and you’re passionate about it, and you love the audience … you’ll help them change the world.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Disabled in Israel

There's been a lot of misinformation about the situation of the disabled in Israel. My colleagues at Myers-JDC-Brookdale have done some interesting research into what the integration looks like, and where the challenges are.

There are some really fascinating and important findings in their research. First and foremost ... there's a significant percent of the population living with disabilities: 

 About a million Israelis (a quarter of the working-age population), have at least one disability, and almost half of those have more than one disability. The rates of disability are much higher for Arab-Israelis and Ethiopian-Israelis.

 19% of the working-age population have a moderate-to-severe disability and 6% a mild disability.

 Over 260,000 individuals receive some type of disability pension from the Social Security Institute, and the numbers have been growing rapidly. Another 50,000 people receive disability allowances from the Israel Defense Forces. 200,000 receive other forms of on-going income support.

 Disabilities are associated with complex health challenges: Diabetes is 3 times greater and high blood pressure is 2 times greater among working-age adults with disabilities than among the general population.

 About 40% of working-age adults with disabilities have children under age 18, and 20% have children under age 10.

Second, about 200,000 children (8% of all children) have a disability, and 40% of these have multiple disabilities 

 About 18% of families have a child with a disability.

 Children with disabilities are over-represented among children at risk. One-third of all children identified by programs for children at risk have some type of disability.

 More than 154,000 children with recognized disabilities are in the education system (from pre-school to high school).
85% attend regular schools, expanding opportunities for students but presenting challenges for the schools.

Third, there's a growing recognition of need to focus attention on young adults with disabilities 

 Almost 40% of young adults who are not working or studying have a disability!

If you want more information and sources on these findings, message me, or contact my colleagues at Myers-JDC-Brookdale. If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email (about twice a week, depending on what else I'm up to), sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Fight Breast Cancer in Bosnia

wonderful article in the Huffington Post by my amazing colleague Nela Hasic ...

How to Fight Breast Cancer in Bosnia: Togetherness

Posted: 10/02/2013 9:37 am
Each October, for six years now, thousands of Bosnians -- Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews -- gather in this historic city to battle again. But they don't raise arms against one another, but rather against a breast cancer. For people who suffered years of horrific warfare, the war against cancer is a metaphor that is perhaps best left on the sidelines. But the fight to contain and prevent this disease is a battle we fight daily.

Our most visible activity is the Bosnia-Herzegovina Race for the Cure, which has become an annual national event each October in our country of 4 million people, marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Each year, as I get ready for the race, I reflect back on my own engagement with this advocacy work. It began with a phone call at my home in the early morning hours of April 10, 1992, just a few days after the outbreak of the Bosnian War. On the other end of the line was a Jewish community member with an urgent offer.
The representative said we could either leave Sarajevo for the airport immediately and be airlifted out -- part of a clandestine operation by an aid group to protect members of the Sarajevo Jewish community and others from the siege -- or stay at our own peril. Reluctantly, and at the behest of my father, who lost his entire family in the Holocaust, my family headed for the airport for Israel, where we watched helplessly as our country was torn apart by internecine fighting.
Ten years later and homesick, we returned to a very different nation. Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided into Serbian, Croat and Bosniac zones of control, essentially a country politically divided in two. And while peace has thankfully lasted, progress has been mixed -- old hatreds still run deep.
In 2004, I was offered a job running a small health education initiative called the Women's Health Empowerment Program (WHEP), which encourages the early detection of breast cancer. WHEP is, ironically, a program of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the same aid group that rescued me from Sarajevo years before. Shortly after, Susan G. Komen became a partner in our work. That phone call years ago still rings in my ear.
Through WHEP, we have created something unprecedented in my country's history: support groups and hotlines for breast cancer survivors, health-related services such as free mammogram check ups and pap tests, workshops and facilitating the collaboration of government agencies, non-governmental agencies, and the medical community.
This work has offered me a surprising pocket of hope. After all, breast cancer does not differentiate between religions or ethnicities. And because awareness of the disease in Bosnia lags far behind that of other Western nations and cancer detection facilities are fewer and less advanced, survival rates tend to be markedly lower than elsewhere. For these reasons cancer education has been a high priority of ours, and a challenge, given the various groups seeking information.
But, we've had some significant success. More than 2,200 breast cancer survivors received psychological support through 13-peer support groups created by WHEP. When the race celebrated its fifth anniversary in Sarajevo last year, the more than 6,300 participants included 400 survivors from all ethnic backgrounds.
Last year we were able to provide some 1,300 post-surgery health and care packages to every woman diagnosed with breast cancer in the country as well as close to 700 mammogram (and other health-related) check ups for under-served women and women with no health insurance. More than 4,000 first aid packages were distributed to breast cancer patients in hospitals across Bosnia and Herzegovina. More than 1,600 women received free mammography screening.
Along the way, we organized interfaith meetings for survivors of breast cancer. Inevitably, some suspicion and apprehension carried over from the war. Yet over the years, this has been replaced by a sense of camaraderie, even friendship. On weekends, Serbian Orthodox participants in our project from East Sarajevo might meet with Catholics Croats from Siroki Brijeg or Muslims in Visoko.
It's not always been without conflict. In 2010, we thought about calling off the annual race due to political tensions incited by local elections and conflict in the Middle East. In the end, however, we went ahead and were rewarded with an exceptional turnout of more than 4,000 people.
The model that we've created is a model that could be replicated elsewhere. Women don't need to share national aspirations or religious beliefs. All that is needed to make this work a success is to acknowledge that cancer is a killer that doesn't differentiate among ethnicities or religions. That may sound like a simple observation, but believe me -- it's not. However, we have shown that women can come together on behalf of a greater good to achieve health and well being for ourselves and our daughters and granddaughters.
Some 20 years since I fled my home and returned to an uncertain future, I am proudly part of a movement bringing together women of all faiths to battle an indiscriminate killer. It may not completely heal the wounds of a struggling country, but it delivers hope -- and life -- to women and families in a place eager for healing.
Nela Hasic is the Bosnia director of the Women's Health Empowerment Program.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Better Together

I love "Better Together" .... I think it's one of the most innovative and impactful programs in Israel today.

It improves the lives of at-risk youth, and builds up the capabilites of communities and professionals around them. When you go see this program, you see the incredible changes that we can make in a neighborhood using partnerships between residents and service-providers.

We have some amazing partners who have helped make Better Together a success in over 30 locations around Israel. Because of their commitment, and our shared values, there are tens of thousands of Israelis whose lives are made better every day.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Turf (2)

Over a drink the other day with a colleague from another large international Jewish organization (love you guys) we had a great conversation about all the people we know.

On the one hand ... there are a lot of wonderful, inspiring and committed Jewish communal supporters out there. On the other hand ... our world is very small, and very well-connected. And we often end up all talking to the same - small - number of people.

So how do we see this from our perspective? I think that philanthropy, especially major gifts philanthropy, is cumulative - not exclusive. I don't know many JDC supporters who "only" give to the Joint. They give because they love, because we share and implement their values ... and those values are wide-ranging enough to include more than one cause. If you give to your local Jewish federation, to a great Israeli charity, to your synagogue, to something that works in an international setting ... I think you'd probably have the values and vision to like what the Joint is doing.

The challenge - the "enemy" - in what we do isn't the other organizations. It's the whole concept of "non-giving."

If you don't get it, if you don't give to your federation, or to some other great organizations ... I know you won't give to us either.

If you love it, you'll get it. And you'll keep giving it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Do Israelis Donate?

This is a really good question, and it's one I get asked a lot when I visit federations.

My colleagues at Myers-JDC-Brookdale have done some really interesting research on this, and some of their findings are fascinating. For example:

A significant percent of Israelis have donated in the last 12 months to institutions or individuals beyond friends and family 
 68% of people age 20 or older reported donating.
 72% of the 50-54 age group reported donating, making them the age group in which donations are most common. At least 52% of all other groups over age 20 reported making donations.

A majority of respondents in all income levels reported donating, although the percentage and amounts increase with income 
 The percentage of people who donate rises with income from 64% in the lowest income level to 85% in the highest income level.

Rate of donors varies among social groups 
 Rates of donation are somewhat lower among immigrants born in the former Soviet Union, and even more so among Arab-Israelis.

Donation amounts vary widely 
 68% of donors reported donating up to 500 NIS, while 17% reported donating above 1,000 NIS.
 56% of donors in lower-income levels (income up to 2,000 NIS per month) reported donating up to 100 NIS a year.
 34% of donors in higher-income levels (income above 21,000 NIS per month) reported donating over 1,000 NIS a year.

If you want more information and sources on these findings, message me, or contact my colleagues at Myers-JDC-Brookdale. If you want to receive this blog on a regular basis by email (about twice a week, depending on what else I'm up to), sign up in the top-right box where it says "follow" ...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


On a mission recently in Europe I led a discussion about "turf."

Turf is one of those Jewish-community concepts that we all know what it is when we see it. It's a combination of institutional pride, territorial protectiveness and - sometimes - overeager delineations that block cooperation and detract from community-building.

So when we talk about turf in American Jewish community life, it's often seen as a negative. Someone is being overprotective, or mean-spirited, or overly competitive against a different organization, for example.

And yet ... increasingly I've noticed how important turf is, especially in some of the countries in which we work where the Jewish community is still building up its sense of identity.

When you look at countries that, for some seventy years were cut off from all organized aspects of Jewish community life, it's not surprising. And then, in the early 1990s, precisely when the Joint returned formally to these countries and started working with these communities, all those on whom we would have built leadership programs ... were precisely those who got up and left. All those with the strongest Jewish identities were among the first to make aliyah, or move to Europe or the States.

So the revival of Jewish life took time. It couldn't have happened in the early 1990s. And the way to build Jewish community was - and is - through pride in institutions, through belonging, through participation.

Brick by brick, JCC by JCC, Hillel by Hillel ... You need turf to build a community.