A volunteer distributes food at a soup kitchen..
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Social Services and Welfare Ministry promised on Tuesday that soup kitchens serving Holocaust survivors would not shut down.
The pledge was made during a particularly heated discussion of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee which convened to discuss the imminent closure of dozens of soup kitchens that feed needy Holocaust survivors.
The debate was initiated by MKs Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp), Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu), Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi), Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) and Abraham Naguise (Likud).
The committee heard from Miryam Greiver, a Holocaust survivor, who said: “The time has come for the Social Affairs Ministry, the prime minister, the Treasury, everyone, to unite and say,`We are really going to help the Holocaust survivors, give them respect during the final years of their lives and give them money.’ “We keep on talking, but the Holocaust survivors are nearing the end of their lives.
Friends of mine die every day,” she told the committee.
While Greiver implied she would rather receive additional funds for food than have to go to a soup kitchen, thousands of underprivileged Holocaust survivors depend on these kitchens for a warm meal.
“I would rather die than enter a soup kitchen. It is very difficult for an adult,” she said.
“The time has come to give respect to Holocaust survivors in the last days of their lives.”
Committee Chairman Eli Alalouf interrupted Greiver, saying: “Show me one person who does not respect Holocaust survivors?” Everyone in the room, he said, was dedicated to helping Holocaust survivors, calling her remarks disrespectful to the people in the room who convened the meeting to address the issue.
“They threw us, the Moroccans and the Algerians – we are also Holocaust survivors, don’t discount the others,” he said.
Alalouf called soup kitchens a “necessity” given the current state of Holocaust survivors. “I agree that the essence is good, but the method is lacking,” he continued.
Following the exchange, Alalouf apologized to Greiver for his outburst.
The Claims Conference, which allocates funds to institutions providing social services to Holocaust survivors, decided to stop funding numerous soup kitchens that feed thousands of Holocaust survivors, threatening the closure of these kitchens.
Eli Groner, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aware of the issue and had instructed him to present a solution to the Committee.
“Read my lips: Soup kitchens in Israel will not be shut down,” he said. “Holocaust survivors will continue to receive this service from the state.”
Shlomo Gur, vice president of the Claims Conference, said a mechanism was needed to make certain that those who eat in the designated soup kitchens are, in fact, Holocaust survivors.
”When such a mechanism is found, we will resume our funding,” he told the committee.
“It can be a magnetic card for the survivors, or any other method.”
Eliezer Yablon, director general of the Social Services and Welfare Ministry also declared that the soup kitchens would not be closed down. “All those who need food receive it. We understand the Claims Conference’s position, but we do not accept it,” he said.
Shmuli, meanwhile, told the committee that in 30 years they would “look back and not understand how we did not find a solution to this disgrace.”
“The State of Israel is shirking its responsibility and is throwing the survivors to the [non-profit] organizations,” he said.
“Every day in the Finance Committee, tens of billions of shekels are transferred from here to there; people are fighting like lions for the tycoons, but an organization that cares for Holocaust survivors is given 8,000 shekels a year,” he added.