The Gray Revolution

Thanks to the Gil Party, senior citizens in Israel are getting their second wind.

gray revolution 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gray revolution 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Up until this year, senior citizens' parties running in the Knesset elections failed to pass the threshold. But this year, the Gil Party - which not surprisingly is headquartered in Tel Aviv which has six senior citizens on its city council - made history not only by passing the threshold but by winning seven mandates and two ministerial portfolios. If Gil succeeds in its mission to improve the quality of life for senior citizens through increased pensions and enhanced health services, the chances are high that it will be represented to an even greater extent in the 18th Knesset. At the beginning of May 2005, there were 1,015 people in Israel who were born in or before 1906, making them eligible for the 100-plus club. This represented an extraordinary increase of 334 over the previous year. What was no less noteworthy was that 132 members of the 100-plus club are immigrants who have come to Israel since 1990. Moreover, there are 22 people who have passed the age of 110, and two-thirds of the members of the 100-plus club are female. At the present time there are 20,300 people aged 90-plus who are receiving pensions. Currently, some 615,000 senior citizens (not counting surviving spouses) receive monthly NII allotments. The total amount of payments by the NII to senior citizens in 2005 came to around NIS 13.3 billion, including supplementary payments to pensioners on low incomes. Together with payments made to surviving spouses, the amount came to NIS 16.2 billion. But in 2005, there was a slight decrease in the number of Israeli citizens entitled to old age pensions, which may be attributable to the Retirement Age Law passed in the Knesset on January 5, 2004 and implemented from July 1, 2004. The law changed the age of entitlement for an old age pension from 60 to 64 for women and 65 to 67 for men, but these new conditions are being introduced on a gradual basis so most employed people who had planned on retiring under the previous conditions would not be unduly affected. Eshel Services for the Aged has been celebrating group birthdays of centenarians for the past eight years. Four years ago, the institution applied to President Moshe Katsav to host a birthday party for the country's oldest citizens, and Katsav, a former Minister for Social Affairs with strong sympathies for the plight of the aged, readily agreed. This year, he hosted the third such event with 120 members of the 100-plus club. It was quite amazing to see how few were in wheelchairs, and many were able to walk without the aid of a walking frame. They came from all strata of society - Jews and Arabs, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, urban and rural. Thanks to Moshe Yonas and his team in Eshel's Light and Sound Department, the image of people of the third age is changing. The department is constantly engaged in research around the country, Yonas told The Jerusalem Post. "We look for the most active and interesting senior citizens with the most fascinating stories and we make films about them which are picked up by television stations in Israel and abroad," said Yonas. In addition to what is done by his department, said Yonas, there are people of the third age making films about their peer generation, and they are producing quality work. Some of the Light and Sound productions were shown at Beit Hanassi, and featured Mounes Mazori, a 100-year-old university student with a young soul, who in his spare time teaches boys boning up on their bar mitzva portions; centenarian Israel Hofesh, who maintains the kibbutz archive at Kibbutz Afikim and teaches the children of the kibbutz about its history; and Esther Baba, 102, who successfully underwent a cataract operation so she could see her great great grandson. In the film, Hofesh, who has tremendous rapport with small children, tells his interviewer that he likes to keep abreast with current events by listening to the radio and reading newspapers. "You are responsible for your own situation," he said. "We live with age, but we do not have to live as if we are old. You have to get up every day with fresh anticipation and expectation." To prove that this was more than lip service, Hofesh was filmed at a Beduin wedding where he enthusiastically joined in the dancing. At the conclusion of the reception for the members of the 100-plus club, it was encouraging to see how many of the centenarians were able to walk with the aid of only a cane, and how at least one did what comes naturally. Khalil Kenan, a 100-year-old shepherd from the south of the country, fingered his worry beads while inside the building, and afterwards stood around with some of his young relatives. After a while, he got tired of standing, so he went looking for a shady spot, sat down cross-legged with the practiced ease of decades and ruminated until his relatives were ready to leave. Oscar Mareni, a dapper, straight-backed Jerusalemite who had come wearing the medals he had earned while serving with the British Air Force in World War II, declined the offer of a ride home and said he preferred to walk. Remarkably agile for a man his age, the Czech-born Mareni is a former treasurer of the Jerusalem Municipality. He was accompanied by his caregiver, who, when asked his age, immediately said he was 100. Drawing himself up to his full height, Mareni chided her gently: "Don't go making me older than I am. I was born in 1907." Vanity, it seems, has no age limit.