Elderly couple (illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director- general of Israel’s National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi), has just proposed an increase in the monthly pension for retirees (kitzvat ziknah) by an additional NIS 1,000 per month. At the same time, he has warned that such an increase is likely to create a major financial problem for the State of Israel because of the population’s rising life expectancy. In other words, Israelis are living far beyond the official retirement age of 67 for men and 62 for women.
According to the World Health Organization, the life expectancy in Israel for men is now 80 and for women 84. These figures are comparable with those for Britain, Australia, Canada, the US and France; they also place Israel ahead of Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and predictably far head of Eastern Europe and Latin America.
While the normal age of retirement in North America, Australia and Western Europe is roughly the same as Israel’s, varying between 65 and 68 (with few real differences between men and women), the payments made overseas are significantly higher.
Why is longevity a financial embarrassment in Israel and what measures should have been adopted years ago to make it a blessing? In answer to those questions let me tell the following story.
Way back in 1998, an advert in The Jerusalem Post invited applications for an editorial post with Ariel: The Israel Review of Arts and Letters published by the cultural and scientific division of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. One highly qualified applicant was interviewed by Asher Weill, the editor-in-chief of Ariel, who decided that he was right man for the job. All the terms of his employment were agreed and it only remained for a contract to be signed. When this was about to take place, a Foreign Ministry official appeared and brusquely informed the successful candidate that his appointment had been vetoed because he would reach the age of 65 in the following year. No regard was paid to his qualifications and ability to perform the tasks required of an editor. This obviously surprised Weill, who (unlike the man from the Foreign Ministry) hastened to apologize for the “mistake.”
In case you have not already identified the victim of this bureaucratic stupidity, I was the person concerned, and I’m bound to wonder how many other people have had a similar experience. Now, 17 years later, I continue to write and edit books and articles, engage in research, give lectures, and also head two learned societies in Israel. Though officially retired, with a long list of cultural achievements to his credit, Asher Weill also remains active as consultant and editor of English-language publications for Limmud FSU. He was recently awarded one of this year’s Nefesh B’Nefesh
“Bonei Zion” Prizes for English-speaking olim who have made a signal contribution to the State of Israel.
My point is that an individual’s age should not be the major consideration when determining his or her ability to work full-time and the date on which he or she should officially retire. I know of many people like myself who are hard at work in their eighties, and can even point to a busy colleague whose name was submitted for the Yakir Yerushalayim award at the age of 99! To sum up, by changing the age of retirement for the physically and mentally sound to 75, Israel would gain immeasurably from their labor and save a vast amount of unnecessary old-age pension allocations. Will someone in the government please “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest”? The writer, who made aliya before the Six Day War, is an author and cultural historian.