The retirement age as set down by law took thousands of talented, capable and energetic people who still had a lot to contribute to society out of the workforce, President Moshe Katsav told a group representing Israel's most senior citizens on Thursday.
People in their sixties were still full of energy, Katsav said, and had knowledge and experience that could be very beneficial. Although the retirement age had been raised from 65 to 67, Katsav was of the opinion that it should be raised even higher.
For the third consecutive year, Katsav, who is an outspoken advocate for the rights of the aged, has together with his wife Gila hosted a reception for a large gathering of Israelis who are members of the 100+ club. This year 120 centenarians attended the reception.
Katsav, together with the National Insurance Institute and the Joint Distributation Committee's Eshel Services for the Aged, three years ago set up Seva Tova (A Good Age), a project aimed at enabling senior citizens live out their lives in dignity with maximum independence and a choice of stimulating activities to keep their brains and bodies active.
The 120 centenarians came from all strata of the population. Few were actually born in Israel, some had walked here as children from Yemen, and others were comparatively recent arrivals from Russia who had come in the twilight of their lives.
To those who had been in Israel for a long time, Katsav said: "The people of Israel thank you for your contribution to the upbuilding and development of the state."
Although the state of Israel was relatively young, he observed, the anticipated lifespan of the country's inhabitants was among the highest in the world. In Israel, there were more than 600,000 people over the age of 65, which was almost 10 percent of the population.
In the last fifty years, he continued, Israel's population has quadrupled, while its elderly population has multiplied eight-fold, from 85,000 to 670,000. Moreover, 22% of senior citizens today were over the age of 80.
It was imperative, he said, to enhance the status of senior citizens, to ensure their welfare and to improve the quality of their lives so that they could be assured that the third age would be a good age.
The Seva Tova project was now operating in 15 communities, he said, and would expand to include an additional seven. It was important, he stressed, to identify the senior citizens in every community and to determine the extent of their needs. Many live alone, and without regular assistance their safety was imperiled.
Yigal Ben Shalom, director-general of the National Insurance Institute, emphasized at the reception the need for additional volunteers to work with the elderly. There were more than 4,500 volunteers, he said, and without them a project like Seva Tova would not be able to succeed.
Ben Shalom also hinted that if the annual reception for members of 100-plus club were to become a permanent tradition there might be a need to expand Beit Hanassi. Many more people had wanted to come, he said, "But there just wasn't room."