A significant proportion of Israel's estimated 4,000 IDF widows face a constant struggle to support their families, especially the older women among them, the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization told The Jerusalem Post this week.
According to the organization, which represents some 3,950 widows and almost the same number of orphans, bereaved families "who made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel" struggle to subsist on state pensions amounting to little more than the average salary.
"Over Pessah we distributed 88 food coupons worth NIS 500 so that IDF widows could hold a decent Seder with their families," Nava Shoham, chairwoman of the organization, told the Post.
"Sometimes I have to ask myself why a widow, whose husband lost his life defending the country, is forced into a situation where she has to accept charity.
"You are probably asking why only 88 women," she continued. "That was all we could afford this year. But there are many more widows, especially the more veteran ones, who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet."
Among those who received the food coupons was Dina (not her real name), whose husband was killed in the late 1970s during a routine army training exercise. At the age of 28, she was left alone to raise the couple's two children.
"My situation is a bit embarrassing," explained Dina, in a telephone interview on Monday. "I have no choice but to buy second-hand clothes, my apartment has serious rising damp. But if I take out a bank loan to pay for the repairs, I will lose some of my benefits."
Dina said that she received NIS 6,500 a month from the Defense Ministry, but because her husband was a reservist, she failed to qualify for a life insurance payout from the army, a benefit currently available only to career soldiers.
"It's the reality of my situation," continued Dina, who has been unsuccessful at finding a job but volunteers part-time at the IDF Widows and Orphans Association. "My husband fought for the state and we have turned into poor people."
Shoham explained that for widows such as Dina, whose husbands fell before 1999, the financial outlook is much worse than for those who lost their partners more recently. In 1999, the Knesset approved legislation ensuring remuneration for widows from both the Defense Ministry and the IDF.
"Those who lost their husbands in the Yom Kippur War, for example are in a far worse financial situation," said Shoham of the war that produced the most widows - 780.
"At that time, most women did not go out to work - they certainly did not have 'careers'; rather they stayed at home to look after the children. Once those children grew up, however, the women were already too old to start their careers.
"Most of the widows are in a very difficult financial situation," she continued, estimating that close to 70 percent of IDF widows over 65 are financially stressed.
"I would not say they are living on the poverty line, but they have just enough to pay the necessary bills and that is it."
Likud MK Danny Danon, who chairs the Knesset Lobby for Widows and Orphans of the IDF and who is himself an IDF orphan, said he was well aware of the hardships facing many of the bereaved families.
"We know there is a problem and we are working on a plan to fix the situation as soon as possible," he said.
Over the past year, 27 women became IDF widows, four of them during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
The oldest IDF widow today is 96 years old and the youngest is 18.