Residents of the Wizo Parents' Home who believed themselves to be threatened with eviction due to a decision by the WIZO executive to close down the facility can rest easy.
"No one will be thrown out of a WIZO house," Tova Ben Dov, chairwoman of the World WIZO executive, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
While it is true that the executive committee has resolved to close the home in stages, said Ben Dov, the process will take several years.
Meanwhile WIZO, the Women's International Zionist Organization, has been looking for alternative housing solutions for all the residents has received an undertaking from the nearby Palace retirement home that it will accommodate WIZO Parents' Home residents at the same rate of payment.
Residents and their families will not incur any additional cost, although prices at the luxury Palace facility are much higher than those of WIZO.
"We will offer everyone a solution," said Ben Dov, "but we cannot force anyone to leave against their will. If residents don't accept the solution of a better place for the same money, then we will give them a boutique of an old-age home," she said, implying that if there is no other choice WIZO will have to refurbish the home.
While committed to not forcing anyone out of the home, WIZO will not take in any new residents.
The overall WIZO deficit has nothing to do with the Parents' Home, which is running at a separate annual deficit of NIS 5 million, Ben Dov said.
The decision to close the home was not taken lightly, she declared, acknowledging that the executive was fully aware that the thought of moving would be traumatic for some of the residents.
Aside from the deficit, explained Ben Dov, the home is old and dilapidated and would cost a huge amount of money to renovate.
If a decision had been taken to renovate it, she pointed out, the residents would have had to move anyway, and would have returned to somewhat different surroundings.
In the decades since the home was established, several much more modern facilities for senior citizens have been constructed in Tel Aviv and beyond, with courtyards, gardens, swimming pools, tennis courts, more public areas and more varied programs of activities. WIZO simply cannot compete.
The individual WIZO residential units are only 19 square meters each, while the newer senior citizens' homes have units of 24 to 30 sq.m.
As chairwoman, said Ben Dov, "I see myself responsible for the future of WIZO. I have to ensure that WIZO will be financially stable."
Ben Dov stated that she could understand why World WIZO Honorary President Raya Jaglom was fighting to prevent the closure. "Raya is emotionally connected. She brought the money, she built the synagogue [in the home]. I admire her for it, but if the whole executive and the chairpersons of 30 federations are looking towards a long-term stronger WIZO, we have to redevelop."
Whatever changes WIZO plans to introduce will not happen overnight. Jaglom, according to Ben Dov, was a genius when, in 1967, she negotiated and signed the relevant documents that designate as residential the land on which the Parents' Home and the WIZO headquarters are located.
This would enable the construction of two 30-story towers that would contain day-care centers, two floors of studio apartments for independent elderly people, a synagogue, four floors for WIZO's offices and a parking lot for 500 vehicles. The remaining space in the towers would be devoted to upscale residential units in keeping with the North Tel Aviv neighborhood.
No final decision has been taken as to whether WIZO would do this on its own, in partnership with a property developer or adopt some other alternative.
This would have to be worked out in consultation with lawyers, and the final plans would have to be approved by the Tel Aviv Municipality. The whole process would take years, said Ben Dov.
Income from the project when it finally does get off the ground will be paid into an endowment fund in memory of Rebecca Sieff, the founding president of WIZO. Interest from the endowment fund will be used for WIZO projects in the spheres of education, social welfare, children at risk, domestic violence and the status of women.
The elderly will not be neglected, promised Ben Dov, who conceded that when WIZO spoke to the residents and members of their families more care should have been taken to ensure that everyone understood the situation in all its ramifications.