In recent weeks we have commented on the longstanding debate over whether there is too much redundancy and duplication in the Jewish communal world — comments that have touched a raw nerve, judging by the e-mails we’ve received and the blogs we’ve read.
So it’s nice to report on a Jewish organization that has had more than its share of woes in recent years but is now experiencing a kind of rejuvenation, thanks to a membership energized by the national debate over health care reform.
The venerable B’nai B’rith International has fought for years to reverse declining membership, financial difficulties and an image as stodgy and out of date. Like so many Jewish groups, it has struggled to attract younger members; like others, it has sometimes blurred its distinctive qualities by focusing on the same issues other major Jewish groups emphasize.
But B’nai B’rith’s focus on senior housing and advocacy, a natural for a group with an older-than-average membership, has given the group new traction as the nation again tries to cope with soaring medical costs and problems with access to quality care.
While many other major groups have been conspicuous in their absence from the contentious, highly partisan but critical debate over health care, B’nai Brith has been in the trenches, pressing hard for specific reform proposals but also working to protect the interests of its older members who are vulnerable to both a badly broken health care system and to politically palatable quick fixes that could make matters worse.
As Dan Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith’s executive vice president, told The Jewish Week last year, “It’s something that has really energized our membership because they are so directly affected by rising medical costs.”
Health care reform is an issue of staggering complexity. No politician and no party has a monopoly on wisdom on the subject, and it’s easy to see why so many Jewish organizations have stayed out of the fight, or focused only on narrow aspects of the debate. But the outcome will have a huge impact on Americans across the social and economic spectrum and on an economy burdened by never-ending health care cost increases. We commend B’nai B’rith for its strong focus on an issue so many of its members care deeply about.