WIZO may evict Parents Home residents

Action called heartless as horrified donor demands her $1 million gift back.

WIZO parents home 88 (photo credit: )
WIZO parents home 88
(photo credit: )
Unless they win their case in court, some 100 residents of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) Parents Home in Tel Aviv will be forced to find other accommodations. WIZO Honorary Life President Raya Jaglom, who seldom lost a battle during her many years in the organization, found herself outwitted on Tuesday when she attempted to advocate on behalf of the residents at a plenary session during WIZO's 85th anniversary convention in Tel Aviv. Even letters from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and MK Hemi Doron of the Knesset's Interior Committee failed to move the delegates, who had been primed previously by members of the WIZO Executive. Metzger several years ago inaugurated the synagogue at the Parents Home in memory of Jaglom's parents. The three magic words in real estate are location, location, location, and the WIZO Parents Home and adjacent WIZO headquarters are located in the prime areas of Weizmann and King David Streets, where property prices are at the high end of the market. WIZO has a huge deficit, which the sale of the complex would more than cover. The decision by the WIZO executive to sell the properties was taken in Jaglom's absence in July 2002. Since then, Jaglom, the staff of the Parents Home, the residents and their families have been waging a futile struggle via the media, the Knesset and the Rabbinate to have the decision revoked. Jaglom was horrified on Tuesday when World WIZO Chairman Tova Ben Dov discussed the plans for the high-rise apartment buildings that are to go up on the site of the current WIZO complex. It wasn't just the disgust that WIZO was being so callous to the residents, who include some 20 Holocaust survivors as well as people who are over 100 years old, Jaglom later told The Jerusalem Post. It was the realization that most of the delegates thought that these residential towers would belong to WIZO and would guarantee WIZO a perpetual income. This is not the case; the land would be immediately sold to a developer, thus eliminating the deficit but providing no further income. Aside from its deficit, one of the reasons given by the WIZO executive to relatives of the residents was that the Parents Home was not generating any income. Jaglom, who raised the $7 million cost of the Parents Home in 1986, argued that this is not true. The home was established so that senior WIZO members and other elderly people could live out their lives in dignity, she said. In the beginning, there was a long waiting list, and until the present crisis people still wanted to move there. At the plenary session, she asked how WIZO could have such a heartless approach. Even though the executive said that it would find alternate accommodation for the residents, there was no existing facility which could take all of them, meaning they would have to be separated. This would be a traumatic experience for most of them, she argued, but more so for married couples who may have to be separated because one partner has to be in a nursing home. One woman faced with this prospect wanted to commit suicide, according to Sonja Kent, a relative of one of the residents and a spokesperson for the families of the residents. The woman's husband is in the nursing wing of the Parents Home, and she goes to have her meals with him so they see each other every day. There is no guarantee that they would be together in another facility. Kent said that Holocaust survivors among the residents have told her that they are "again sitting on [their] suitcases." Her great-aunt, a spry nonagenarian who walks without a cane and whose faculties are intact, developed such a fit of anxiety that she had to be hospitalized, Kent said. Jaglom, in her address to WIZO, asked how WIZO could be so heartless as to disregard the feelings of people who sold their apartments and other possessions in order to move into the Parents Home in the first place. Not only can she not look the residents in the eye, she told the Post, but she can't face the donors either, feeling as though she has cheated them. The donor who gave her $1.5m. has died, but another donor who also gave in excess of $1m. has informed Jaglom that she would like her money back if the Parents Home is closed. Metzger, in a letter that Jaglom read to the plenum, said that there were halachic issues involved because people had given in good faith for a designated cause. He found it ethically and morally reprehensible to close down the facility. Doron, too, wrote that closure was totally unacceptable. In its Web site, WIZO describes the Parents Home as catering to 100 elderly singles and couples who live in independent units, plus 36 seniors requiring nursing care. "The home is run by a dedicated and professional staff, and is licensed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health," states the site information. This will not be the case for much longer. Jaglom, who over the years has raised close to $100m. for WIZO projects, fears that this would only be the beginning and that WIZO will gradually sell off other properties, thus betraying not only the donors and the beneficiaries, but also the vision of WIZO founder Rebecca Sieff.