Katsav scolds government for not doing enough for the elderly

Beit Hanassi hosts Joint Distribution Committee awards ceremony for excellence in social services.

After swamping events at Beit Hanassi since the start of President Moshe Katsav's legal problems, the media have apparently lost interest for now until Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz comes to a decision on the police investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. The atmosphere at Beit Hanassi on Tuesday was surprisingly low key. There were only two video cameramen and slightly more than a handful of stills photographers. With only two exceptions, even the reporters who regularly cover Beit Hanassi did not bother to show up. The event was the annual Lenore and Larry Zusman-Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) awards ceremony for excellence in the various fields of social services in Israel. This was the fifth consecutive year that Beit Hanassi, which has a close working relationship with the JDC, hosted the event. In making specific reference to Katsav's abiding interest in the welfare of the weakest sectors of Israeli society, in particular the elderly, JDC Director-General Amnon Mantver alluded to the cloud over Katsav's head and wished the president and his wife, Gila, strength and a long life to withstand it all and continue with their social service activities. Katsav praised the Zusmans for their initiative and their generosity, which he said was a vital form of encouragement and support for those who help others. Though appreciative of what the JDC has done on behalf of the elderly, Katsav berated the government for not doing enough. The distress and poverty of the elderly increases annually, he said. "The government always promises that things will be better next year, but instead they are worse," he said. Although Katsav sat with a benign expression on his face and took an interest in the proceedings, he did not enter the room with his usual bounce, nor was he as effusive as usual when greeting his guests. The most telling sign of the pressures he has experienced was the visible thinning of the hair on his head, though this could also be age-related - Katsav will be 61 next month. Katsav was doing a better job than his wife of keeping up appearances. Her expression was tense, and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. Katsav could have found an excuse to postpone the event or have it moved elsewhere, but one of the hallmarks of his period in office has been his concern for the disadvantaged, and he was not about to turn his back on an issue so close to his heart. The $45,000 Zusman Prize is awarded annually to three recipients in different areas of social service, with each of the awardees receiving $15,000. The categories this time were assistance to the elderly, volunteering and philanthropy and the absorption of new immigrants. Dr. Israel Doron, who has been a pivotal figure in advancing the rights and status of the elderly, was the first recipient. The prize for volunteering and philanthropy went to the three-member team of Yermiyahu and Tami Ben-Shalom and Yuval Farjun. The trio are members of Reshit, a religious urban kibbutz in Jerusalem whose members engage in volunteer community and educational activities on behalf of residents of the socio-economically distressed neighborhood of Kiryat Menahem. The prize for immigrant absorption went to Tziki Aud, the son of a Jerusalem-born mother and a father who was a Holocaust survivor and came to Israel as a lone soldier. Aud and his American-born wife have devoted themselves to caring for lone soldiers who have come from abroad to join the IDF. The Aud family has adopted more than 30 such soldiers and continues to maintain contact with them after their discharge from the army. Speaking on behalf of the recipients, Aud said the dictionary definition of volunteering was doing something of one's free will without any expectation of a reward. However, there was a reward, he said, in the appreciation that one receives and in the knowledge that the void one has helped to fill would have remained without the efforts made towards improving the situation.