The Omicron coronavirus variant wave sweeping through Israel is hitting its elderly population particularly hard, further exacerbating the socioeconomic banes some of them faced even before the outset of the pandemic two years ago.
This notwithstanding, while the government is grasping at straws to avoid locking down the country again, this section of the population is being unaccounted for in the decision-making process.
Time after time, they are being pushed aside. Two years of disregard for their needs. "It's for their own sake," we tell ourselves in an attempt to soothe our conscience as we accept with indifference the fact they are subjected to see out the final years of their lives, their "golden years", locked in their homes, lonely and cut off from anything that may provide them with some much-needed joy and comfort.
Each time again they are being pushed aside. Because the economy is more important, even though they are too a part of it. Because the mental well-being of our youth is far more critical than their quality of life. And even today, as we run our lives under the slogan "anything but a lockdown," we are completely ignoring the fact that many seniors have been locked in their homes for weeks. One might assume it's out of choice, but frankly, they have no real choice in the current reality.
Their mental resilience is deteriorating and the heavy toll it's exacting can already be seen on the ground. Loneliness — along with lack of movement, inaccessibility of medical services and avoidance from getting tested for fear of catching the virus — have caused physical and mental setbacks in many seniors.
They, who had been independent until the crisis, became a husk of their former selves.
Occasionally, the government would approve another plan or budget of a couple million to send a volunteer to visit them once a week or a doctor to see them once a month. These gestures are primarily designed to give leave to politicians to say they are doing everything for the public that founded this nation. They are not the solution.
As part of the shopping list of concessions many seniors had to make during the pandemic, many of them were forced to stop working. For some, going to work was an island of sanity — preservation of a healthy routine that upkeeps their physical and mental state. But for many others, it is not a privilege or a choice, but an economic necessity.
They are fighting through and keep working because that is the only way they could still afford everything they need. For these folks, coronavirus is a severe economic blow that has forced them to join the many other elderly people living in poverty and deprivation.
Admittedly, the virus is ultimately just a symptom of a much bigger problem — the State of Israel does not allow its elders to live in dignity.
During a hearing of Knesset's Labor and Welfare Committee on Wednesday, a representative for the National Insurance Institute revealed a shocking statistic: Every fourth senior citizen in Israel is receiving income support. We're talking about 238,000 senior citizens out of a population of 1.2 million. This is on top of many elderly people who need also need income support but are not aware of their rights.
Committee chair MK Efrat Rayten said that she called up a special hearing following an appeal she received from a 71-year-old woman named Raya who had to take charity for the first time in her life.
She has to give up dental care and various repairs around the house because she simply cannot afford it.
This story, and many others like it, are the result of years of sweeping the elderly public and their needs under the rug. Years in which meager old-age benefits remain stagnant while inflation carried prices up higher and higher. Years without any significant assistance in exercising their rights. Years of neglect that only became worse with the pandemic.