Yaakov Zakai lives on NIS 3,100 a month. It is a barebones budget for the 84-yearold whose life is riddled with obstacles.
Zakai rarely emerges from his small apartment in Holon.
Every outing, from a medical appointment to buying groceries, is an ordeal. He relies on his caregiver who comes for a total of 19 hours a week.
When venturing out on his own, Zakai must take a cab, since he is not stable enough for public transportation. The cabs are a luxury he can ill afford.
“Every month I suffer,” a frail-sounding Zakai said over the phone on Sunday.
He believes there should be a nationwide campaign to combat the poverty epidemic in Israel.
“I’m not fighting just for me. This is a fight for all of us as a collective,” Zakai said.
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Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), is a firm believer in eliminating poverty among the elderly. Zakai is just one of those who receive aid from the organization.
For the past 20 years, the IFCJ has been dedicated to combating poverty in a myriad of ways.
“In recent years, the government of Israel has lost its compassion and unfortunately neglects its weakest populations in it,” Eckstein said ahead of the International Day of Poverty, which takes place on Tuesday.
“Allocating small amounts – tens to a few hundred shekels – may help clear the conscience of decision-makers in Israel, but it leaves the elderly to wallow in their distress,” he said.
According to a Taub Center for Social Policy Studies report released in May, the Israeli government’s system of tackling poverty is broken. When it comes to poverty rates in the OECD, the Jewish state ranks among the worst. As a result, the fellowship receives thousands of calls on its emergency hotline every month from elderly citizens in distress.
Zakai is not alone. Currently, 11% of Israeli citizens are over 65 years of age. That percentage is expected to increase to 15% by 2035, in what experts are calling a “tsunami of the elderly.”
Today, 21% percent of Israelis live below the poverty line.
The IFCJ has responded in many ways, including, among others: donating funds to soup kitchens that feed more than 5,000 elderly citizens throughout the country each day; handing out food vouchers and meal kits to roughly 18,500 people each month; distributing heating grants in the winter; and assisting Holocaust survivors with their dental care.
These initiatives are part of the IFCJ’s Honor and Friendship program, which generates roughly NIS 20 million per year.
“The fellowship sees the elderly living in poverty as one of the central missions of the organization and supports this population in the scope of tens of millions of dollars,” the IFCJ said.
Roughly 1.4 million Christian donors from around the world are responsible for these hefty contributions, according to the organization.
The aid goes primarily to elderly people who rely on state pensions for their subsistence.
Many such recipients would otherwise have to choose between staying warm or paying for food, medicine or other basic necessities.
Of course, it is not only senior citizens who live below the poverty line. People with disabilities also struggle to make ends meet. For the past few months, disabled citizens have blocked major roads in protest over what they see as dismal disability allotments.
While the government has agreed to allocate NIS 4.2 billion to the disability allowance, the organization feels that more work needs to be done.
While the IFCJ is proud of this win for people with disabilities, it wants similar achievements for the elderly.
“Sadly, the elderly people, and especially ones with disabilities or ones who are not as mobile, cannot go out and protest because they are too weak and feeble,” Eckstein lamented.
The IFCJ believes that a healthy society reinforces its weakest links rather than ignore them and hopes the reality of the elderly will greatly improve.This article was written in cooperation with the IFCJ.
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