Peres kicks off Senior Citizens month at Beit Hanassi

The world supposedly belongs to the young, but as people increasingly live longer and lead active lives, the world may eventually belong to the old.

Peres with old people 311 (photo credit: Meytal Yeslovitz)
Peres with old people 311
(photo credit: Meytal Yeslovitz)
President Shimon Peres on Sunday kicked off Senior Citizen's Month at Beit Hanassi by hosting a nine senior citizens, of different backgrounds, including one or two who might regard him as a spring chicken.
Generally speaking, Peres, 87, is the oldest person in the room at an official or social event, unless his good friend and fellow Ben Gurion disciple Israel's fifth president Yitzhak Navon, 89, is also in attendance.
But on Sunday, even without Navon present, there were people who were born before Peres, among them writer and lecturer Geula Bat Yehuda Raphael, 92, who is the widow of former Minister for Religious Affairs Yitzhak Raphael and the daughter of Yehuda Leib Fishman Maimon, who helped draft and was a signatory to Israel's Declaration of Independence, was a member of the first Knesset and Israel's first Minister for Religious Affairs; Educator Adam Ben Chanoch, 89, who founded the school on Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi, where he and his wife Ilse have lived for 62 years, and who now volunteers twice a week as an education counselor at the Hula Valley high school; Issaschar Goldstein, 101, who was seriously injured in the riots of 1939 and later owned the legendary Tnuva café in Jerusalem, as well as the Patt gas station.
Others just slightly younger than Peres, but certainly part of his generation, included former Druze MK, Amal Nasser el-Din, 82, who is both a bereaved father and grandfather having lost two generations of his family who were killed on active duty in the IDF, and who now devotes much of his time to advocating peace and equality; singer of the underground movements and former member of the Palmach Shulamit Livnat who is the mother of 60 year old Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat; Margalit Zanati, 79, whose family has lived uninterrupted in Pe'ekin since the period of the Second Temple; Bilha Castel, the widow of renowned artist Moshe Castel, whose mural and other works are on permanent display at Beit Hanassi; geography and cartography expert Dr. Shimshon Livni who was one of the founders of Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev and cardiologist Dr.
At the beginning of the 1990s, approximately 3.6 per cent of Israel's population was aged 75 and over. In 2009, the ratio climbed to 4.7 per cent. Within the range of these statistics, the ratio of Jewish senior citizens aged 75 plus increased in the same time frame from 4.4 per cent to 5.7 per cent Although the male birthrate in Israel is higher than the female, women tend to outlive men, so the statistics undergo major changes with the passing of the years.
In overall terms, there are 979 men to every 1,000 women in Israel. Up until the age of 30, males outnumber females, but from 30 onwards, women start catching up until they are in the majority. Thus from age 75 onwards, there are 680 males to every 1,000 females, although there are certainly men who live well into their nineties and even past a hundred. Quite an impressive number of older senior citizens retain their faculties.
As the ratio of senior citizens continues to grow in populations around the world, governments, including Israel, are adopting new policies geared towards the needs and aspirations of the third age sector of society.
In fact, in Israel, as in some other countries, there is a special government ministry for senior citizens headed here not by a minister, but by a deputy minister in the person of Likud MK Lea Ness.
Esther Shapira, 85, who retired from Hadassah twenty years ago, found that retirement was not to her liking and went to work at Ichilov, where she is still on staff. Shapira's late husband was a dentist, her son Adiel is a senior surgeon at Soroka Medical Center, and her daughter Professor Anat Levinstein manages the eye department at Ichilov.
Colonel (Res) David 'Migdal' Teperson who will celebrate his 84th birthday on October 6, and who has served with the Israel Defense Forces since 1948, when he came as a volunteer from South Africa, earned his nickname Migdal (Tower) because of his height, and insisted on continuing to do reserve duty after reaching retirement age was to have been among the President's special guests, but absented himself due to the death of his wife Shoshana whose funeral was held on Sunday.
Ness, who introduced each of the special guests to Peres, said that today, every 10th person in Israel is a senior citizen, and that in round figures, the total number of senior citizens is 750,000. The forecast for the year 2030, she said, was that the number of senior citizens in the country would be equal to the number of children.
According to law, she said, a person becomes a senior citizen at age 65, an age that was once considered old, but with the enormous changes that have occurred in society, is now comparatively young.
For this reason one should no longer give voice to the traditional Jewish blessing of "till 120" because people aged 100 are often still healthy, active and capable of contributing to the community, she said, implying that in the not too distant future people will be living way past 120.
What was important, she emphasized, was to put content into their lives, and to give them the dignity and respect to which they are entitled.
Studies show that continuing social and physical activity help to prolong life, she said, and with this in mind, her ministry has been introducing a steady series of third age projects.
Ness lamented the fact that many senior citizens are not aware of their rights with regard to national authorities and institutions, and she has therefore formulated legislation that will make it compulsory for all organizations and institutions that provide special allowances for senior citizens, to ensure that such allowances are well publicized.
Before settling down in his seat, Peres went around the room exchanging a few words with each of guests.
He was obviously delighted to meet with the spry Goldstein, who except for the fact that he wears an earphone style hearing aid, looks nowhere near his age. "I presume you're not in a hurry to go anywhere," said Peres as they shook hands. "You look terrific. What do you do to stay that way? Do you exercise? Do you have a special diet?" The response was in the negative to both questions. What keeps him young, said Goldstein, is that for the past twenty years he's been working as a volunteer with the National Insurance Institute to help senior citizens with their problems.
Goldstein showed Peres a yellowed pre-State newspaper which carried an item on his being shot and hospitalized. Scanning the front page headlines, Peres commented that things are pretty much the same today as they were then. Peres was keen to read the whole newspaper, but Goldstein wanted it back, and presidential staff, mindful of the President's other appointments, urged Goldstein to conclude his chat with Peres.
The youthful looking Livnat was no stranger to Peres, who said of her: "she stays young forever." Zanati brought a bottle of olive oil produced at Pe'ekin and gave it to Peres, who wanted to know if it would enable him to live longer and whether the oil was made from special olives.
Peres asked Bilha Castel if she'd seen the new display of her husband's art at Beit Hanassi, and praised Amal Nasser el-Din for the impressive memorial he erected for Druze soldiers who have fallen in service to the State of Israel. Livni, who after his retirement from the Hebrew University turned his attention to his wife's creative pursuits and began making mosaics and glass beaded jewelry, presented of a sample of his work to Peres.
Livnat said she didn't have a gift other than a song and proceeded to sing what she thought best symbolized everyone's feelings towards the country: Lalechet Shevi Aharayich (Being captivated by you) with everyone including Peres and Ness joining in the refrain.
Shapira, who swims every morning, emphasized both as a medical practitioner and from personal experience the importance of physical and mental activity for people of advancing age.
In bidding farewell to his guests, Peres said he would not wish them to reach a certain age, but to keep celebrating birthdays.
Noting that young people know a lot more today than their peers of previous of previous generations, Peres said: "Young people are old in what they can do and old people are young in what they can still do.
To be a senior citizen is not a sin, but a matter of pride. An elderly person can still grow older and make a valuable contribution along the way based on the experience gained in living for so long."