Members of Ken Lazaken, an NGO that aims to defend the rights of the country’s senior citizens, held a vigil outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday to raise awareness about the elderly’s daily challenges.

Natan Lavon, who has worked as a social worker and founded Ken Lazaken eight years ago, explained that his organization assists senior citizens with minor things as well as life-threatening issues.

A few years ago, for example, one of the volunteers answered a phone call from a woman who had a simple question.

They ended up discovering that she had been homeless for three years, spending her nights on buses. Six weeks later, thanks to the organization’s efforts, she was placed in a nursing home in Beersheba.

Today, according to the organization’s statistics, 20 percent of the country’s senior citizens live below the poverty line. In addition, only 33% are entitled to a pension of about NIS 3,200 from their former workplaces, and 40,000 seniors are waiting for public housing placements.

“There is an idea, which still exists, that if there were no old people, the country’s situation would be better,” Lavon said.

Participants at the vigil, the majority of whom are retired, held signs that read, “Let us live honorably in this country,” and “Nursing care and hospitalization as a right and not a favor.”

“I’m one of the happy old people,” Lavon said, “but I’m very sensitive to human rights.”

He added that the government, on the local level, was not sensitized enough to the elderly’s needs.

“Too many important places have no elevators, no handrails to facilitate things for old people,” he said.

He is also involved in representing senior citizens at the Knesset and says he has managed to accomplish a few things in the past eight years, including raising Holocaust survivors’ allowances by 50% four years ago.

“I prefer to solve problems without making too much noise,” he explained.

Marit Lavi, a volunteer at the association, used to work at the National Insurance Institute and is now retired.

She said she wanted to send a message to the elderly people with whom she worked that she was here for them.

“It is seeing how powerless they are that brings me here today,” she said, holding her sign for passing cars to see.

Another volunteer, Shlomo Ben-Yona, said he was especially concerned about senior citizens’ right to receive medical care and hospitalization according to their needs. He explained that often, people had to pay a hefty sum just for falling in the street and having Magen David Adom take them to the hospital.

“Unfortunately my wife needs the treatment and care. But you know, today it’s for me, tomorrow for someone else. Nobody knows when they will need this,” he said, holding on to his cane. “We can’t ask the families to take care of the financials behind it – the government needs to do it. And by forgetting to care of the elderly, they are forgetting the people who built this country from scratch.”

Ken Lazaken director Bianca Yoel said the organization provided a phone line for seniors to call for help with bureaucracy, or just for emotional support.

“It feels good to know you make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“Those things like helping them get another NIS 500 that they are entitled to seems like nothing to us, but to them, it makes all the difference.”

Government spokesman Mark Regev told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that many vigils are held outside the prime minister’s residence and that the government does not routinely comment on all of them.

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