Reaching out from Jerusalem is offering an eye witness account of what it is like to be old in Israel, in G-D’s Promised Land. This is by Sarah:
Today I find myself a “kashish” – over age 75 living in one of Jerusalem’s poorer neighborhoods. Unfortunately, I do not have a pension, but only live on an old age stipend from National Insurance – Bituach Leumi. Needless, to say the pittance we are given is impossible to live on – about $750 a month. I find myself in my old age living below the poverty line.
Here in Israel we now have our own country and yet the state of the elderly is absolutely disastrous. The government’s economic policies over the last 20 years have been catastrophic for the elderly and have crushed the life out of us. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these economic policies are anti-Jewish, as they are against everything we are taught in the Torah and by our prophets.
Cast me not off in the time of old age; When my strength faileth, forsake me not (Psalm 71:9)
אַל־תַּ֖שְׁלִיכֵנִי לְעֵ֣ת זִקְנָ֑ה כִּכְל֥וֹת כֹּ֜חִ֗י אַל־תַּֽעַזְבֵֽנִי
Among us are also Holocaust survivors. I am not a Holocaust survivor and am not entitled to reparations from Germany. I was a war baby born in London to a British Jewish mother and a Canadian Jewish soldier. My dad spent five years in London fighting the Nazis. My father was awarded many medals for bravery. My Mother described my dad as one of those “fearless lads” because one of the things he did was to drive a truck in total darkness full of ammunition and bombs for the Royal Air Force. Hitler and the Nazis never got their boots on British soil, but we were subjected to a reign of terror from the blitz and V2 rockets. My parents lived with my grandparents in the Tooting area of London. Due to the ongoing air raids, bombings and V2 rocket attacks, I was put to sleep in a linen closet in the hope that if our apartment took a hit that I would be protected by blankets! Absurd, but I can understand that it was not possible to spend so many years sleeping down in the air raid shelter. My mother told me that one night the noise of the planes and bombings was so bad, when I was about a year and a half old, that I did not sleep all night and stood up in my cot saying over and over, Oh the panes (planes). My mother cursed Hitler all night for keeping me from sleeping.
I was also one of the toddlers that had to leave London to get away from the V2 bombings. My mother took me to Prestwich in Scotland. My dad had been sent back to Montreal because his mother was dying. My mother and I had to remain in London until after the D-day invasion. My parents had a secret code. My mother wrote to my dad “mum is well” and that is how my dad knew that we were on our way. The ship we sailed on was called the RMS Aquitania and we had to be in total darkness, as there were still Nazi U-boats and submarines in the waters. My mother and I were among the first war brides and war babies to arrive in Halifax in Canada and we were photographed and appeared in the newspapers.
As a child growing up in Montreal I showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the war. When I was outside playing with friends, if a plane flew over us I ran to hide. To this day I cannot stand the sound of planes flying overhead and really cannot take the sound of air-raid sirens. I have no memory of the blitz, but have been left with these problems.
When I was four years old my parents took me on the RMS Queen Elizabeth back to visit my grandmother and aunt and uncle in London. As far as the eye could see, the Tooting area they lived in was all rubble. They used to call Tooting “bomb alley” because the Nazis would drop all their leftover bombs on Tooting on their way back to Germany. Miraculously, my grandparents’ apartment on Mitcham Road was never hit.
I have to say thank G-D that in spite of my advanced age, I have no real underlying health conditions. Therefore I am taking it upon myself to speak out, to cry out really for the terrible suffering many people my age are experiencing here in Israel. Money is found for all kinds of groups and interests, but no one really represents us in the government. At one time there was a Pensioners’ Party led by Rafael Eitan. Rafael Eitan was a big hero because he had captured Adolf Eichmann. However, all we got from the 7 seats that Rafael Eitan immediately gave to Ariel Sharon to form a coalition was a senior citizen’s card giving us discounts to museums, etc. Eitan gave 7 seats to Ariel Sharon without asking anything for us in return! When I see what other parties get in return for 7 seats it makes my blood boil. I pray to G-D to keep me alive so that I can keep on recording the terrible suffering that we elderly are experiencing in G-D’s Promised Land. I will not keep silent.
As we do not get enough money to live on in our old age, we take loans we can never hope to pay back. We have terrible debts and soon the day comes when we can no longer get loans from the banks. All we ask for is to get the minimum wage, so that we can live out our final years in dignity.
Sometimes I fantasize that the day will come when members of the Knesset will be forced somehow to live out their lives on $750 a month with no savings – only debts. Old age and disabilities also come to the wealthy. I have not seen anyone escape this. You cannot expect to have good health in your old age just because of all your millions. The day comes when only G-D’s mercy can save us, but you have been merciless with us and the way we treat others is the way we can expect to be treated by G-D’s judgments. Actually, we are promised to receive healing and good health if we are charitable and help those in need. In Isaiah 58:2-14 we are promised that if we deal our bread to the hungry, give shelter to the poor, clothe the naked and help members of our own family who are in need then:
Then shall thy light break forth as
And thy healing shall spring forth
And thy righteousness shall go
The glory of the LORD shall be thy
Then shalt thou call, and the LORD
Thou shalt cry, and He will say:
‘Here I am.’
If thou take away from the midst of
thee the yoke,
The putting forth of the finger, and
And if thou draw out thy soul to
And satisfy the afflicted soul;
Then shall thy light rise in darkness,
And thy gloom be as the noon-day;
And the LORD will guide thee
And satisfy thy soul in drought,
And make strong thy bones…
In the synagogue in the shtetyl in Lithuania where my great grandparents came from hung a sign:
“Charity Redeems from Death”
For these promises that being charitable could heal us and our loved ones from sickness, wounds and even death, Jews for thousands of years were among the most charitable people who always took care of the weak among them whether it was caring for orphans, the elderly, the crippled, etc. Yet now that we are here in the land that was promised to us, we have forsaken these divine teachings and have lost our way to our own healing and salvation.
We have a new government now in Israel that has promised to help us, but from what we are hearing there are a whole lot of groups and projects that come first and there may be nothing left for us. To my mind, we should come first as our situation is one of desperation and pikuach nefesh (danger to life). The longer you take to help us the more we will die – this is a fact. We are too old and worn out to go out and demonstrate. Those that demonstrate in Israel and make a lot of noise often get their way.
I am a G-D fearing Jew. I believe in the coming of G-D with His mashiach (messiah) to Jerusalem to balance this nation and the world. Most of the Israeli people are good at heart. That is why so many of them once voted for a Pensioner’s party because they really wanted to help us. However, that Pensioner’s party was only interested in helping Ariel Sharon form a coalition and we were used for that purpose without getting anything in return.
For those few of us who can work, we are allowed to work so long as we do not earn more than about $500 a month. However, I am writing this for those of us who can no longer walk, who cannot talk or write, who have gone blind and deaf in old age – all of whom can no longer work. Now there is also a raging coronavirus pandemic and even for young people there are not many jobs out there. Is there anyone out there listening? In the mean time we die off, not only from old age, but from the terrible economic suffering we experience on a daily basis in what is supposed to be a Jewish country. The cost of living is higher in Israel than most western countries and it goes up and up, but we still get the same pittance. If you could hear the terrible suffering of the elderly poor in Israel, it would be an agonizing groan.
The pittance we are given is not enough for us to take taxis, but we have to use the busses. Recently, I saw an old woman with a walker fall down on the bus even though she was accompanied by her caretaker. There should be a law that bus drivers cannot drive off until an elderly person has sat down. As it is, as you board the bus, many drivers take off. I have suffered numerous falls on busses for this reason. Falls can lead to fractures, disability and death and are the number one cause of accidental death for the elderly.
To the members of the government and the opposition. Many of you live in opulence and have left us to suffer in dire poverty. There are several millionaires among you in both the coalition and the opposition. I hope and pray this new government will help us, as they have promised to, but in the meantime our debts are piling up and we are without money to pay bills and buy food and medicines. I implore you not to waste time, but to undertake immediate action to save us from this terrible suffering. In truth, we should be compensated for all the years that we were not given enough money to live on. We should be given the minimum wage, especially as we are paying back debts. The coming year is a shmita year (sabbatical year of release). At one time the poor would have had all their debts cancelled in the shmita year. You should all be ashamed. Busha!