TEL AVIV (JTA) — Devora Zien’s tiny apartment in Bnei Brak runs like a factory, but, she admits, not a very smooth one. With 12 mouths to feed three times a day, single-use plasticware is a basic necessity, she says. So when Israel’s then-Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman increased taxes on disposables in 2021, Zien said she was “in total shock.”
“For me, it’s more important than bread and milk,” she said. “It’s about survival. I can’t stand in front of the kitchen sink all day washing dishes — and where would I put a dishwasher even if I could afford one?”
Liberman’s tax on disposable dinnerware, as well as another set of taxes he imposed as finance minister on sugar-filled soft drinks, were viewed by many ultra-Orthodox Israelis as unfairly targeting their lifestyle and cynically using health and environmental considerations to single out their community.
This week, after Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was sworn in, Liberman’s successor, Bezalel Smotrich, in his first move as finance minister, signed orders repealing the tax hikes on disposables and sugary drinks.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers hailed the move, as did many in the broader haredi population. Images made the rounds on social media of haredi men celebrating the decision by drinking Cristal Mint, a low-in-price, high-in-sugar soda, from disposable plastic cups. Beyond the relief felt by members of the community, there was also a sense that the balance in Israel’s cultural war is once again tipping in their favor.
MK Uri Maklev of the haredi United Torah Judaism party, said the tax reversal underscored the new government’s policy of “working for the citizens and not against them.”
Israel is either the world’s top or second-biggest consumer of disposable tableware per capita, depending on the analysis, making the goods a natural target for environmental activists. And the taxes were projected to bring in $350 million annually to the country’s treasury, no small amount. That’s nearly twice, for example, what the city of Jerusalem spends each year on sanitation.
But the disposables were Liberman’s only target for environmental taxes, which came as he sought to address Israel’s high cost of living by cutting taxes on other goods. And no environmental activist himself, Liberman is well known for his fierce criticism of Israel’s haredi sector, which he says contributes too little to the country through work and army service.
“The only thing that matters to him is sticking his finger in our eye,” said Devora’s sister-in-law Yael Zien, a media personality who advocates on behalf of Israel’s haredi population. She went on to cite Liberman’s widely condemned statement that he would send haredi Jews on “wheelbarrows straight to the dumpster.”
“You can’t compare your average, secular, two-car family that orders takeaway, with the haredis. We also host far more family functions than any other sector,” Zien said. “Why not raise taxes on a second car? Or flights overseas?”
“Haredim are actually more green than anyone else. We buy less clothes, we don’t fly abroad, and our communities rely heavily on gmachim and passing things on,” she said, referring to the free-loan establishments that provide anything from baby bottles to evening gowns.
Though the taxation touched on a sensitive nerve and was viewed by both sides as another round in the cultural war between secular and Orthodox Israelis, when the dust settled, it turned out that both sides may actually agree on some important issues.
Despite saying she reacted with “ecstasy” to Smotrich’s moves, Zien is not entirely opposed to reinstating the taxes, but this time with cooperation from the affected parties and a multi-pronged approach. Addressing the sugary drinks, Zien believes that the government should have taken steps in parallel to raise awareness in haredi society about the danger of diabetes and not just enforce acts that could be interpreted as punitive.
Meanwhile, environmental activists, who had marveled at the taxation on plastic dishes, are willing to admit that Liberman might have paid too little attention to the needs of haredi communities.
Yael Gini, community director at Sustainable Development Goals Israel, noted that tax hikes are just one way to combat waste, and not necessarily the most optimal. Targeting businesses or public places with a blanket ban on disposables, as France enacted this week in what activists are calling a watershed moment, might have been a more prudent first step, she said.
“It’s a shame it came to this. This isn’t sectorial but it feels like it is. [Politicians] turned it into something political and the haredim are right about that,” said Gini, formerly a program director at Greenpeace.
“But [the haredim] need to understand, it’s not an us-versus-them situation,” she said, adding that the environmental impact of Israel’s use of disposables is “a disaster for everyone.”
Despite the political uproar created by the decision to tax single use dinnerware, anecdotal evidence shows it might have been effective, especially for haredi Orthodox families living on a tight budget. Data published in April 2022 by the Ministry of Environment indicated that purchase of single-use plastics in supermarkets had dropped nearly 50% since the taxes were imposed six months earlier. Critics of this survey noted, however, that it did not take into consideration the haredi community’s tendency to shop at convenience stores and to make large purchases before Jewish holidays.
For Leah, a Hasidic Orthodox mother of seven living in the cloistered Bukharian neighborhood of Jerusalem, Liberman’s policy worked.
“We finally got around to toivelling a dinner set that we had been gifted years before,” she said, referencing the Jewish practice of immersing dishes and utensils in a ritual pool to ensure that they can be used with kosher food.
She also went to IKEA to buy other multi-use items like casserole dishes and admits that she would not have made the trip had plasticware remained affordable. “Life is fast-paced and that was one less thing to worry about,” she said.
The adjustment took time and there were bumps in the road. “Many plates got broken, the children argued all the time over cups, but we got through it. I bought each child their own set and encouraged them to wash it.” Leah, who asked that her last name not be printed, has very little exposure to current affairs and was not aware of Smotrich’s rollback. While the move means she would probably allow herself to be less frugal about buying plastics in the future, she was unlikely to go back entirely to the way things were before, she said.
“It’s nice to eat Shabbat meals on real plates,” Leah said. “It feels more special.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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