'Use your cane to fend off attackers!'

After rise in assaults, elderly hesitantly take up self-defense.

elderly senior 88.224 (photo credit: )
elderly senior 88.224
(photo credit: )
Sarit, a 24-year-old karate instructor from Jerusalem, is not sure that teaching senior citizens self-defense is a responsible thing to do. "Strengthening their confidence and teaching them basic tips such as handing over their bags to someone who threatens their lives, using a whistle to draw attention, not to walk alone in dark, isolated places - all these things are fine. But I am not sure if it's right to teach them to respond when I know they can end up seriously injured following an encounter with a stronger attacker," Sarit said on Wednesday. Sarit had just attended a self-defense course at Nofim, a retirement home in Jerusalem's Kiryat Yovel neighborhood. The two-hour-long course was taught by Jill Shames, a Karate teacher who immigrated to Rehovot from New York 20 years ago. She is the chairwoman of the El Halev Martial Arts Center for Women in Jerusalem. "When I came to Israel I was sure I would focus on [teaching] karate, but the violence in Israeli society is constantly increasing, so the biggest demand is for teaching people how to defend themselves," Shames said. Last year saw an increase of 20 percent nationally in the number of severe attacks against senior citizens. About two dozen Nofim residents, mostly women, participated in the course. "The attacker doesn't expect any response from an old person, so it is smart to take advantage of this surprise factor," Shames said, before demonstrating a hand-strike accompanied with a quick movement away from the attacker. "Of course, doing it while shouting 'Go away' or something similar might draw the attention of people around or even scare away the attacker," she said, and then asked the participants to follow her example. One by one, with no great enthusiasm, they stood up and hit the punching bag Shames was holding. "I don't think I should hit the bag with my hand, I might break it," one of the women said. "Don't use your fingers, use the edge of your palm," Shames replied. Shames glowed with anticipation as she approached a woman using crutches. "See, she has an advantage!" she said, taking one of the crutches in her hands. "What an advantage!" laughed the other participants. "No, really, she can use the crutches as a weapon to hit the attacker between the legs, where it really hurts," Shames explained, adding that hitting an ankle would also cause the attacker great pain. "Maybe it would be more useful for us to first learn anatomy," participant Sophie Ya'ari said. "If you want to use your cane," Shames continued, "use both of your hands and direct it straight to the face or to a weak spot on the attacker's body. Don't use it as you use a baseball bat, because it would take you too long to hit the attacker." She invited another student to discover the advantages of using crutches. Irony, skepticism and black humor characterize the Nofim residents' conversations about violent crimes against people from their age group. They do not believe they will ever use the self-defense techniques they were taught. Even the bill, submitted by the Gil Pensioners Party, to increase punishments against attackers does not infuse them with hope. "The manager here recommended that I see what the course is about," said Eve Alroi. "I myself don't fear being attacked. I hardly walk alone and whenever I need to go somewhere I go by car." Rivka Tzalmon, 88, said, "I exercise a lot and keep in shape and I was curious to hear more. However, I try not to be in these sorts of dangerous situations because it doesn't matter how much I train myself, one can never know how they will react in reality. I know I would be swamped with adrenaline, but I'd rather that doesn't happen." For Miriyam Leheman, 82, staying in shape is a way of life. She was a gymnastics teacher ("but that was a hundred years ago") and according to Shames she is still a very strong lady. "What can an attacker want from an old person? Their money. So I walk around with only NIS 20 in my purse and the rest is in my pockets, even my credit card. If someone attacks me, I will give him my pocketbook," Leheman said. Shames stresses that older people should understand that they are not as helpless as they are often told. "It is very important to show these people where their strength is and how to use it," she said. In addition, Shames emphasizes the need to learn how to fall without breaking bones. "Learning how to fall is a skill all people above the age of 60-65 need to acquire. Old people are afraid of falling down, but when you know how to fall correctly [and you're on the ground], you cannot fall again and you can use this advantage," she said. Shames told the class how she prepares herself for a possible attack. "I read the bad news in the paper and imagine how I will react if I am attacked," she said, adding that this might help her to avoid freezing up at the moment of truth. Shames also said senior citizens should never open the door to strangers. "Sometimes old people feel uncomfortable not opening the door," she said, "because the Israel they grew up in was a place where it was safe to do so."