Jerusalem beggars left out in the cold

With word of the economic crisis spreading like wildfire, the cool, late autumn breeze that picks up on Jerusalem's November evenings was especially cold for those out on the street on Sunday. At the city's Mahane Yehuda market, the less-fortunate bundled up and begged for spare change, many reaping only a few coins or fleeting looks of pity. "It's always hard," said Ilana, who looked to be in her mid-40s, with strands of light brown hair blowing out from under her kerchief. "I have small children to take care of," she said. "And I work, I clean houses. I even receive national insurance, but it's not enough. I still have to come out here and beg." Ilana, who said things were just as bad in 2007, was a living, breathing statistic from Sunday's poverty report. But news of the ongoing global financial crisis didn't have much impact on her. Ilana was too busy worrying about her own financial crisis, and how to get dinner on the table for her kids. However, the people who could help Ilana and others like her are also bracing for the worst. "It's important to note that in today's report, it mentions that poor families are expected to get poorer," Eran Weintraub, CEO of the humanitarian aid organization Latet, said by phone on Sunday. "That signifies a deepening poverty, one that's harder to get out of, and with prices rising, jobs being lost, I don't see an easy end to this." Weintraub said that the outlook for 2009 was severe. "It's already started affecting our sector, humanitarian aid groups," he said. "I'm in contact with a lot of these organizations, and all I've heard about is how donations are significantly down [and] there's not enough to go around. And I'm afraid it's going to continue." In a few more months, he said, "more people will need help, and there's going to be less help to give them. Already today, there are people who just aren't receiving the things they need." From the looks of the market in Jerusalem on Sunday, Weintraub's scenario was already here. Unfamiliar faces popped up; the usual characters with their cups of change and endless blessings were outnumbered by others whose whole demeanor bespoke a dire concern for survival. One man said he was giving up on Mahane Yehuda, as it was too hard to beg there anymore. Near the market's entrance on Rehov Agrippas, an old, bearded man sat with his hand out, asking for help from passersby. "They don't give like they used to," he said, his eyes betraying a lonely sadness. "I used to get meals here. I used to get by. Today all they give me are 10-agorot pieces. I can't even afford my medicine anymore."