‘A godsend’ for working pensioners

"There is nothing worse for a person’s mental and physical health than having nothing to do,"

Working pensioner (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Working pensioner (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Everyone longs for the time when they don’t have to work, when they retire and live the life of Riley. Everyone? Well, people who actually get to the age of retirement often long for the days when they were gainfully employed. It’s not only the income that is missing (and unfortunately in too many cases that is an issue), but pensioners long for the framework, the purposefulness and the comradeship that they enjoyed when they were behind the grind.
Some places of work organize preparatory classes on retirement where prospective pensioners are taught how to work out a schedule of recreation, adult education, community service or other activities – “for there is nothing worse for a person’s mental and physical health than having nothing to do,” says Judy Helman, who organizes such programs.
Many jokes describe the true situation (what is called “a bitter gelechter” in Yiddish) if retirement is not planned. For example, a group of elderly regulars sitting in the waiting room of the health-fund clinic greet one of their hevra with the question, “Yankel, where were you yesterday? Didn’t you want to see the doctor?” “No,” answers Yankel, “yesterday I couldn’t come. Yesterday I really was sick.”
With statistics and surveys to back their undertaking, a service to find employment for the 60-plus crowd called Placement Center for Seniors was founded several months ago as a pilot project in Jerusalem and Beersheba, and it is proving to be a godsend for many such pensioners.
Four organizations planned and implemented the innovative program: Eshel, the branch of the Joint Distribution Committee that deals with programs for the elderly; the Department for Special Projects of the Institute for Social Security; the Division for the Elderly of the Jerusalem Municipality, and Machon Shipour which operates the centers.
“It’s really logical to keep older, experienced men and women in the workforce if they want to be employed,” says Inbal, one of the placement workers in the Jerusalem branch. “These are people who are highly motivated, have a strong work ethic, retain talents in their field and rarely take leaves of absence.”
The motto on the office’s flyer is so true: “There are distinct advantages to age and experience.” Moreover, today, at the age of 62 or 67 when people usually are retired, they are still in their prime. Whereas in the days of Bismarck (when old-age pensions were initiated) people often died even before that age, today the average life span of women in Israel is 81 and for men, 80.
Miriam Cohen (not her real name) worked for 40 years in a government office in its advertising department. The government has required retirement laws, so she had to leave once she reached the age of 62.
But she had so many contacts in the world of advertisement and loved her field so much that everyone told her it was a pity to stop. Moreover, she was in good health, her husband was self-employed and out of the house from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., her children were grown up and out of town.
“What would I do all day, play cards or sit in a cafe?” Miriam moaned.
Instead she turned to the Placement Center for Seniors and with its guidance found a part-time job in a nonprofit organization that is happy to have her, and she’s delighted to do good work there.
The service does not always find jobs for pensioners, but prepares them for searching intelligently for one that suits their situation. The trained staff of four help their clients decide what they really want: how many hours of work, in what field (many would like to change their avocation – to try something new, less strenuous or more challenging) and how to emphasize their talents in a job interview. Some need assistance in writing CVs or polishing their computer skills. Some learn where to apply themselves with the skills that they’ve accumulated.
The guidance is sometimes carried out in small group settings of four or five pensioners and sometimes is individualized. Even though the Placement Center for Seniors is still quite new, certain employment sources are already turning to them with openings – e.g., sheltered housing directors who are interested in empathetic and experienced workers, educational centers that need private tutors for handicapped children, rental agencies and shopping areas.
The numbers are also impressive. Approximately 300 pensioners have already applied to the Jerusalem office; 60 have completed the training sessions and at least 30 have already found jobs through the center. The average candidate according to Inbal is between the ages of 60 and 75, is educated (although not necessarily with an academic background), Israeli born, with a rich and steady working background.
For those who indeed look forward to retiring and developing themselves in various fields, there are unlimited opportunities in Israel today. But for those who want to continue being gainfully employed, the Pensioner Employment Service offers another option, one suitable to many workers about to be retired.
The writer is a veteran geriatric social worker and co-founder of Melabev, the organization for Alzheimer’s care. She is now organizing courses on aging for professionals and support groups for family members coping with dementia.