Do we understand each other?

English speakers are offended by a 'restricted' seniors project.

Elderly 224.88 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram [file])
Elderly 224.88
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram [file])
Back in the old country, "restricted" meant no Jews allowed, certainly not those with funny accents and foreign manners. But Jerusalem residents have felt unwelcome at Ahuzat Beit Hakerem, a luxury seniors residence just off Herzl Boulevard, near the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, nearing completion for occupancy in September. In Jerusalem has received a series of irate letters complaining of anti-Anglo and anti-religious bigotry from potential clients who were rudely ushered out of the development's sales office because they didn't represent the right clientele. Responding to a letter that appeared on April 27 in IJ, by Roberta Cohen, Barbara Berl of Jerusalem wrote: "I was not surprised - about the rude and bigoted attitude with which she was greeted at Ahuzat Beit Hakerem. My mother and I were subject to the same negative and bigoted treatment when the sales representative heard she was an Anglo. To top it off, the administrator made it quite clear that the developer did not want any flavor of Orthodox people as well. Welcome to the Home of the Jewish people." Naomi Nemerof-Lidovitch of Mevaseret Zion was similarly offended, complaining that "when my husband met with the saleswoman at Ahuzat Beit Hakerem and she heard his lack of command of Hebrew, she turned him away completely, not willing to give him any info on the project. When she realized he was religious, she told him there were no religious people signed up for the project and that there were no synagogues in the area. He pointed out that his wife speaks Hebrew and furthermore pointed out the various synagogues nearby. She was not deterred! He was ushered out of the office. What's going on here? Are they looking for a 'select' clientele only?" Interviewed at Ahuzat Beit Hakerem's sales office, agent Ronit Yosha politely explained that Ahuzat Rubinstein - which operates three other private seniors residences in Rishon Lezion, Netanya and Zahala - has a policy of accepting only Hebrew speakers. "All the activities are going to be in Hebrew," she noted of the company's newest project. "We would feel bad," she said, if Anglo clients were unable to participate in all the programming. Moreover, she explained, Anglo residents might not be able to communicate with the nursing staff. "I'm talking for their benefit only." When it was pointed out that registered nurses must learn English to graduate from university or nursing school, she shrugged. Asked about complaints of discrimination against Orthodox Jews, Yosha seemed surprised, saying eight religious couples have already signed on to live at the 330-room complex, which will include an in-house synagogue, as well as amenities such as a swimming pool, billiards room and library. Zvi Handler, CEO of Ahuzot Rubinstein and Ahuzat Beit Hakerem, attributes the claims of discrimination to a "communication problem." Because some of his sales agents are not fluent in English, he says, they were unable to explain properly to prospective residents that while English speakers are welcome in the project, they might run into problems because some of the staff members only speak Hebrew. "In some ways we've failed to explain properly what our policy is," says Handler, who made aliya from Boston in 1971. "I've taken steps to make sure that everyone who works for us understands that we love communication. We're a very touchy-feely organization." He believes he is being responsible by explaining to those with a poor command of Hebrew that they might run into practical problems if they become a resident. "The truth is I'll give poorer service to a non-Hebrew speaker than to a Hebrew speaker," he adds. Citing the Law for the Prevention of Discrimination Concerning Projects, Services and Entrance to Public Places and Places of Entertainment (2000), Jerusalem lawyer Stephen Berman said: "Though Israel has no specific law about old folks' homes having to sell to everyone, this legislation is wide enough that discrimination based on language could be an infringement." Ironically, all of Ahuzat Beit Hakerem's Hebrew-language sales brochures contain the slogan in English "Classic senior residences."