Protecting Israel’s Most Vulnerable: The Urgency in Sustaining Nonprofits

By Dr. Mickey Schindler

The new initiative of the Jewish Funders’ Network and its partners in the US and Israel to extend immediate assistance to Israeli nonprofits is most welcome. Israeli nonprofits have been desperate for assistance since the outbreak of the pandemic, with a quarter of all nonprofits having closed down and fully half of the sector’s employees on furlough. On behalf of MARVA-Law, Welfare & Empowerment, a national nonprofit that provides free legal aid and welfare supports to thousands of vulnerable elderly and people with disabilities, I would like to share just one example of why Israel’s nonprofit sector is so critical to the health and well-being of a humane, civil society.

As Israel’s government struggled with back-to-work regulations that would help contain the virus, one line in the written regulations caused MARVA and other nonprofit colleagues to sit up and pay attention: employees aged 67 and over would not be allowed to return to their place of work, even as younger employees were beginning to return under special conditions of social distancing. At MARVA, we viewed this as a case of ageism, pure and simple. In cooperation with a consortium of nonprofits that support the elderly – including The Association of the Law in the Service of the Elderly, The Marty Jacob Holocaust Survivors and Elderly Clinic at Bar Ilan University, The Clinic for the Rights of Holocaust Survivors and the Elderly at Tel Aviv University, Vehadarta Hakoah Hashlishi, Ken LaZaken, The Israel Gerontological Society, and the Histadrut Hagimlaim – MARVA’s senior team, already facing significant program cut-backs due to government budget cuts, moved quickly and contributed to the writing of a brief for the Israeli Supreme Court appealing this regulation. The a 32-page brief included expert testimony with evidence-based information on the populations most at risk of COVID-19, and supporting the claim that older adults should be allowed to return to work.

As our team argued, while it is important to consider the risk of older adults in the case of the pandemic, there are many other risk factors that need to be considered, and healthy older adults should not be actively prevented from returning to work. The many studies demonstrating the high cost of isolation to the older population – financially and emotionally – underscore the importance of protecting the rights of older adults, since regulations like these negatively affect the legal rights and quality of life of the older population.

Shortly after the brief was submitted to the Supreme Court, the regulation was removed from the books in late April. While we don’t know that it was the brief that caused the reversal of this order, since our coalition also engaged in behind-the-scenes lobbying, clearly this nonprofit coalition played a key role in protecting the rights of older adults at a time when government was oblivious to the potential damage this regulation would impose on an entire sector. If it was not for our nonprofit coalition, this discrimination against the older population would probably continue to wreak havoc on the emotional and financial stability of thousands of older people.

A democratic society without a strong nonprofit sector is clearly one whose citizen’s basic rights are at risk. As more Israeli nonprofits cut back on staff and programming, particularly after a challenging year without adequate government funding due to the ongoing election cycle, more of our civil rights, basic welfare supports, cultural and educational enrichment, and so much more is at real risk.

MARVA is fortunate that funders such as the David Berg Foundation, the Good People Fund, and the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation recognize our value and support the vital work we do each day. By acting as a catalyst to facilitate the investment of American funders and the Israeli government in the nonprofit sector at this critical juncture, before the sector is irreparably damaged, the Jewish Funders Network and its partners can play a central role in ensuring that our nonprofits can continue to serve the most vulnerable in our society. MARVA applauds the JFN and the philanthropists investing in the Israeli nonprofit sector at this time of crisis. Thank you!

Mickey Schindler, Esq., PhD., is the director of MARVA – Law, Welfare & Empowerment, an Israeli nonprofit that provides free legal aid and welfare support to vulnerable older adults and people with disabilities. He is an attorney with training in social work who specializes in Elder Law and Disabilities Law. Previously, Dr. Schindler was the long-time director of Yad Riva, a national nonprofit organization providing legal aid for the elderly. Prior to his work at Yad Riva, Dr. Schindler was an attorney at Bizchut – The Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.