Social Affairs: A matter of survival

The accord reached on the stipend to Holocaust survivors is still not enough for those who most need it.

holocaust survivor 298AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
holocaust survivor 298AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jenny Rosenstein has long stopped believing in the promises of the government.There has just been too much talk, too little action and too many broken promises. The 72-year-old widowed Holocaust survivor, who as a young girl saw her younger sister ripped from her grandmother's arms and bludgeoned to death, has lost all faith in the repeated assurances of the State of Israel to provide for needy elderly Holocaust survivors. Six decades after the horrors of the Holocaust, she can barely make it to the week's end, many times lacking enough money to buy meat, chicken or basic foodstuffs for the Sabbath. "I do not believe in the government at all," she says in an interview the week the government reached a partial agreement with representatives of Holocaust survivors over increased stipends for thousands of them. "They make promises up to the sky, but how can you believe in someone who promises and promises and does not act?" she asks. Life has been one long endless struggle for Rosenstein, with her golden years offering neither the comfort nor the relaxation she so eagerly yearns for. A native of Romania, Rosenstein came here in 1950, married and and opened a beauty parlor. The income she earned was sufficient to provide for her husband, who had a heart condition, and their two children. "For three decades I worked, paid taxes and did not ask for a penny from anyone," she says. Rosenstein now lives on NIS 3,800 month in stipends, including NIS 2,400 from the National Insurance Institute, and about NIS 1,400 which she gets from the German government through the Claims Conference, funds which are barely sufficient to pay for rent, an assortment of medicines and basic foodstuffs. She notes that as a survivor of a concentration camp, she is used to fasting, so if she does not have sufficient food, she makes do with what she has, stressing that hundreds of elderly survivors are living in similar conditions. "In Israeli prisons, they give more food than what some of us have," she says. "It's sad, but all too true." Rosenstein mocked the government's previous offer of NIS 83 a month, which was turned down by Holocaust survivors groups as woefully insufficient and insulting, before this week's markedly increased agreement, wondering aloud if government leaders would with any conscience offer such funding to their elderly parents. "The truth is that we've been treated in our own Israel in an unforgivable way," she says, noting that only recent press focus on the issue has alerted the public at large to years of neglect. THE LONG-AWAITED accord reached this week will allocate NIS 1,200 to every Holocaust survivor living here who survived the ghettos and Nazi camps and who is not receiving a monthly allowance other than social security. The stipend, which will be paid out to 8,500 survivors, is a significant increase from the government's previous offer two months ago. Tens of thousands of other elderly survivors will receive other benefits and tax breaks of up to NIS 1,000 a month, the government said, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledging to "correct a 60-year blight." At the same time, the two sides failed to reach an agreement over stipends for 85,000 Holocaust survivors who fled the Nazis but were never incarcerated in ghettos or camps, with the premier pushing off the issue until next month at the earliest. Nearly a third of the country's 250,000 survivors live in poverty, recent welfare reports have shown, prompting growing calls for additional government assistance. Yet almost 60 percent of them are not eligible for state assistance, a recent state comptroller's report found, in part because they receive funding from abroad. If some of the newly allotted benefits ever reach Rosenstein - which she doubts ("When I see it in my hands, I'll believe it") - she might be able to finally turn on the air-conditioning in her third-floor, two-room Tel Aviv walk-up, though it's unlikely she'd ever be able to move to a lower floor or an elevator building, instead of having to make the difficult trudge up the 46 steps, which is becoming increasingly difficult for her. "I have been living a tragedy from age six to 72," she says. "I have stopped believing, and have no hope. Even on my worst enemies, I do not wish such a life."