Riki Cohen, a widow from Hadera, earns NIS 4,500 ($1,234) a month. She can only dream of earning NIS 20,000 ($5,485) a month, like the fictitious family of 'Mrs. Riki Cohen,' mentioned by Finance Minister Yair Lapid in his controversial Facebook post.
In his post, Lapid also said the 'Cohen family' travels abroad once every two years. "Is he serious? I've never been abroad," the real Riki Cohen told Ynet Tuesday.
On Monday Lapid wrote on his Facebook page that the Finance Ministry was seeking ways to help families "earning, together, a little over NIS 20,000 a month."
Lapid further described his typical family, saying: "They have an apartment and they travel abroad once every two years, but they have no chance of purchasing an apartment in the future for one of their three children.
"A few days ago I told the senior Treasury officials 'I want to talk about Mrs. Cohen.' They became silent, surprised. We were in the middle of a meeting that dealt, as usual, with (reducing) the deficit," Lapid wrote.
"Someone from the end of the table asked 'who is Mrs. Cohen?' I explained, 'She is 37 years old and works as a high school teacher. Her husband works for a high-tech company, not in a senior position, and together they earn a little more than NIS 20,000 a month. We sit here,' I explained, 'Day after day, talking about balancing the budget. Our job is not to balance excel spreadsheets, but to help Mrs. Cohen, because she is the one who helps us. It is because of people like Mrs. Cohen that the State exists. She represents the Israeli middle class – people who wake up in the morning, work hard, pay taxes, and do not belong to any sector but carry the Israeli economy on their backs. What do we do for her?'"
Riki Cohen, a retired secretary who lives off her pension, responded to the Facebook post by saying: "What is he talking about? There are real poor families out there. There are people whose situation is much worse than Lapid's 'Mrs. Riki Cohen'.
"I am a member of the middle class, but I've never earned the sums the finance minister is talking about," the mother of four told Ynet.
'Start with the tycoons'
Cohen and her late husband purchased an apartment more than 20 years ago, when, according to her, buying an apartment was a "practical move." However, she said, "some of my children have not been able to purchase an apartment, and I have no way of helping them."
An additional Riki Cohen, also from Hadera, who is in her 70s, voted for Lapid's Yesh Atid party in the last elections. "He should also take care of those who earn a little less than NIS 20,000 a month," said the woman, whose Health Ministry pension comes to less than NIS 10,000 ($2,742) a month. "I know people who have to live off have this sum; will the finance minister take care of them as well?
"A large segment of the middle class does not earn such a salary (NIS 20,000). Show me social workers or teachers who make this kind of money," she told Ynet.
Cohen, who made aliyah from Romania in 1959, said "life in Israel has become more expensive. When we were young it was possible to live, but now I look at the younger generation, and everything is a struggle. At the time, you could buy an apartment with two basic salaries – without debt. I worked for 30 years at the same place and I don't have a million shekels in savings, so where will my daughter and her doctor husband get a million shekels to buy an apartment?"
Cohen said that despite the gap between her own life and the life of the fictitious woman invoked in Lapid's Facebook post, she still believes the finance minister "wants to do good.
"He asked 'where's the money?' And I am asking the same thing. Now he found out that Israel is in a lot of debt, and I do not believe he will be able to make good on his promises. I suggest that he start with the tycoons, who stole and wasted away our pension funds."
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 the average Israeli family earned NIS 12,345 ($3,386), much less than what Lapid's 'Cohen family from Hadera' makes.