Elderly hit hard by crisis in the North

Israel's first-ever minister for pensioners' affairs, Rafi Eitan, said Monday that he was planning to transfer NIS 2.5 million of his ministry's budget to help older residents of northern Israel. "The [Gil] Pensioners Party will do everything it can to help the elderly in the North," Eitan said in a statement. "Especially for those who do not have the means to take care of themselves." According to Eitan's representative, NIS 1.25m. will go to pay for short-term "vacations" from the rocket attacks for elderly citizens able to make the journey south and an additional NIS 1.25m. will be used for essential supplies and services for those whose caregivers have not shown up for work. "A short break will allow every elderly person the chance, at least for a few days, to escape and rest from the constant barrage of sirens and Katyusha rockets," said Eitan. Ruth Bar On, director of Israel's largest volunteer organization, Selah-The Israel Crisis Management Center, said that many caregivers who look after elderly residents in the North are not going to work because of the barrages from Lebanon, meaning many elderly are not receiving proper food and medical services. "It is terrible with all the rockets raining down there is no one to go out and care for these people," she said, adding that Selah had already moved some residents from the North to hostels in the center of the country. Levia Shalev Fischer, spokeswoman for the Karmiel municipality, said that her own parents - now in their eighties - lived in the older part of the town. "They have no safe room in their house and would never make it in time to the local public bomb shelter," she said. "They have been taking refuge in a central room in their house but yesterday, after a rocket hit near their home, my mother moved in with my brother, who has a shelter in his home. My father, however, refuses to move. He trusts in God that everything will be okay." Many nonprofit organizations have mobilized volunteers and resources to help address this problem. Among them are Yad Sarah, which is running mobile centers to distribute essential medical supplies, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Eshel Association, which has handed out hundreds of emergency packs including food parcels, flashlights and radios to elderly residents. Many of these voluntary organizations joined forces last week under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Affairs to ensure that their work does not overlap. Ishai Shamir, a full-time volunteer at humanitarian aid organization Latet, told The Jerusalem Post that he believes poverty is on the rise in front line communities. "People who were struggling before this war started will be even more harder hit now," said Shamir, who was preparing emergency food packages for those in areas such as Haifa and its bayside suburbs, Acre and Karmiel. He said that when he had delivered such food baskets to those confined to bomb shelters and sealed rooms last week, he had noticed a large increase in poverty. "Things are not looking good," said Shamir, a resident of Haifa who has been working with Latet for the past three years. "Haifa is a changed city. There is no one on the streets. People cannot go to work and the cases of poverty are growing."