civil guard 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy Tel Aviv Police)
Meir Cohen is depressed, not because he turned 83 recently, but rather because four months ago he was told by the Civil Guard that his services were no longer required because he was too old.
He had volunteered in Ness Ziona for nine years.
"They called me into the office and told me I had to leave," said Cohen, who made aliya aboard the refugee ship Exodus in 1947 and immediately joined the Hagana. "I was very hurt. I have given many years of service to this country and I still have many more years to give. I wanted to help out until the end of my life."
Cohen, who looks younger than his years, is one of a growing number of elderly volunteers who have been "fired" by the Civil Guard, a division of the Israel Police that trains citizens to enforce the law in their neighborhoods.
He is also one of two volunteers - the other is in his early 70s - represented in a petition presented last week to the High Court of Justice claiming that the guard's ban on volunteers over the age of 67 is ageist and discriminatory. Filed by the Association of Law in the Service of the Elderly, the petition also faults the Public Security Ministry and the Israel Police.
"[This policy] sends a clear message that our society is only for young people and that there is no place for the elderly," said Karmit Shai, legal adviser to the association. "Volunteering is a main way of keeping occupied for many retirees. They have the time, desire and life experience to contribute to such organizations, but this kind of regulation sends a message that 'we don't want you to be part of our society anymore.'"
Shai said the age policy was set in 2004 but that area commanders had only started to enforce it in the past year.
"Preventing people over 67 from volunteering discriminates against an entire segment of the population," said Shai. "We are asking that each person be judged on an individual basis, that a physical examination be carried out to see if they are suitable for the work."
Ch.-Supt. Dr. Avi Zelba, spokesman for the Civil Guard's community division, told The Jerusalem Post the organization was subject to retirement policies similar to those in force for the police. An earlier petition filed by the Association of Law in the Service of the Elderly in June was rejected by a justice who said the policy did not infringe on the rights of elderly citizens, Zelba said.
"Just like a policeman, Civil Guard volunteers can, in seconds, become embroiled in very dangerous situations," he said. "Our policies are there to protect the citizen."
Zelba said the guard decided earlier this year to start enforcing the policy to bring about more order; he added that the age restriction had been changed since then to permit volunteers up to age 72.
For Cohen, however, being told he is too old to contribute to society still stings.
"I worked for them for four hours a day, five days a week for nine years," said Cohen, who was forced to leave along with four other elderly Ness Ziona volunteers. "In the mornings I helped out at the school, making sure that children were crossing the road safely, and afterwards I assisted the guards at the bus station. Since we were asked to leave, I have not seen any one else doing that work."