An alarmingly high number of Israeli senior citizens live below the poverty line. As the days shorten and temperatures drop, the elderly face a particularly difficult time. Since pensions and welfare benefits don't cover their basic needs, Israeli senior citizens stay home in winter, wrapped in blankets and clad in warm winter clothes.
"I had no heating at home for two straight days. I'm cold and the air conditioner is not working. I use all kinds of things to keep myself warm and even wear a coat inside," says 88-year-old Adela Chukler, a Holocaust survivor from the North Caucasus who lives in Hadera.
Despite the cold, Chukler doesn't heat her home during winter season. She lives alone, with a broken air conditioner, which, had it worked, would have remained off as she cannot afford higher electricity costs.
Chukler receives NIS 4,000 worth of stipends a month. "I had to repair my bathroom a few months ago and was consequently left with no money at all …I don't go out because I'm too poor," she says.
With a lack of government assistance, many of Israel's senior citizens are turning to private charities and aid groups.
A little over half of the senior citizens sponsored by the Latet organization—a nonprofit that provides assistance to Israel's needy populations—cannot afford to heat their homes this winter, and 92% say that old age pensions don't cover their basic needs.
"Winter increases levels of distress among the elderly and Holocaust survivors," says Latet Executive Director Eran Weintraub. "Covered by blankets, they stay inside all day …When taking care of our loved ones, we must bear in mind the less fortunate and lend a hand—we need to remind the elderly that they're not alone."
In 2017, the Knesset passed a bill that helped 247,000 senior citizens receive an annual "heating grant" of NIS 562 (approx. $150), paid by the National Insurance Institute. However, many seniors use this stipend for other essentials, such as food and medicine, and so cannot afford to heat their homes on cold winter days.
Marcel Kona, a 71-year-old Rishon Lezion resident, fears he will not be able to pay his monthly rent. "I get NIS 3,300 a month and I don't know if I'll be able to pay rent this month ... I have two air conditioners but I try not to use them even though it's cold."
Marcel receives assistance from Pitchon Lev, a non-profit organization that combats poverty and hunger in Israel.
"We need to remember the elderly all year long, not just in winter. For years, the government has failed to address this issue. The power is in the hands of our leadership. Perhaps the upcoming elections would serve as a platform for promoting a new poverty bill," says Nissim Zioni, founder and CEO of Pitchon Lev organization.
The Yad Sarah national voluntary organization also provides special transportation services for the disabled and elderly. Its call center operates 24 hours a day and its department for medical and rehabilitation equipment operates in an emergency mode during the winter.
About 200 requests for heating equipment and blankets were sent by the elderly to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), a philanthropic organization that provides food and critical winter relief aid to the elderly. This year, 2,780 Israeli seniors will receive a winter aid grant from the IFCJ.
"Israel's living costs are constantly on the rise, and old-age pensions are among the lowest in the Western world," says Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder and president of IFCJ. "We are actually cutting back on the health and welfare of our parents, grandparents and grandmothers. It's a disgrace, and we must put an end to it. I call on all political candidates to commit to this cause."
You can donate winter assistance kits to the elderly and Holocaust survivors through Latet organization here.
To donate to Pitchon Lev click here or call *5068 (from inside Israel only).
Citizens and companies wishing to volunteer and contribute can also contact the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews' hotline at *9779 or use IFCJ's Facebook page.
Israelis in need of urgent transit and assistance can contact Yad Sarah on *6444.