One third of Israel's elderly population cannot afford to heat their homes due to economic hardship, according to a survey published this week by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago and Jerusalem-based organization that brings together Jews and Christians in their support for Israel. In a sample questioning of more than 500 people countrywide, 250 of who were over the age of 65, 16.4 percent reported having to choose between heating their homes and paying for other basic essentials such as food and medicine. Among those whose income fell below the national average, 31% said they had given up on heating their homes for the entire winter period and 66.7% highlighted that they had been forced to forgo basic essentials more than ten times during the winter months. The survey, which was conducted to coincide with the launch of the organization's new mission to supply heat to individuals in their golden years, also found that 41% of those questioned said the biggest cause of suffering throughout the winter was the cold. A spokesman for the fellowship told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that more than 170,000 elderly people in Israel currently live below the poverty line and struggled with little or no income from a pension. "These statistics simply confirm the acute need to assist the population that is now in its golden years," said Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder and president of the fellowship, adding that the organization had raised NIS 8.5 million in funds to distribute NIS 250 per person to assist 34,000 elderly individuals in paying their heating bills over the last few months of the winter season. Operation 'Ray of Light - to heat the winter for the elderly' is to be set in motion on Tuesday. "I have no doubt that this is one of the main problems facing the elderly population," confirmed Dr. Yitzhak Brick, Director General of JDC-ESHEL, the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged in Israel. "Roughly 200,000 of Israel's elderly survive on an income of NIS 2100 a month putting them in a very difficult economic situation." Pensioners' rights group Ken Lazaken highlighted the issue further adding that the elderly make up some of the poorest segments of Israeli society. "Pensions are still 16% lower than the average salary," said manager Bianka Yoel, adding that 24% of the elderly survived below the poverty line. "In reality, it is no wonder that many of the elderly are forced to chose between suffering from cold or going hungry."