Grapevine: Digital depression

The whole idea of replacing humans with robots and digital systems is to reduce expenditure and enhance efficiency.

Senior Citizens together with professional dancers take part in the Ma’ase Gil project at the Kelim Choreography Center in Bat Yam (photo credit: BOAZ SHAUL)
Senior Citizens together with professional dancers take part in the Ma’ase Gil project at the Kelim Choreography Center in Bat Yam
(photo credit: BOAZ SHAUL)
Senior citizens are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the digital world, where they can seldom reach a human voice in order to ask the questions for which they need answers.
Very often, when a telephone number is given on a website, the recorded message either refers them back to the website or it goes through the eternal numbers game, where the recorded voice recites options and tells the caller which number button to press for what. Sometimes one can press as many as half a dozen buttons before reaching the possi - bility of a human voice; even then, there is a message that states that either there are a lot of callers waiting and therefore the caller should call back at another time, or in the case of Egged for instance, callers are told how many calls there are ahead of them and are given a number. A woman who called into Yair Weinreb ’s program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet The Color of Money complained that for senior citizens, many of who are not computer savvy, the system is a form of discrimina - tion. Essentially it means that anyone who can’t use a computer is denied access to vital information.
The whole idea of replacing humans with robots and digital systems is to reduce expenditure and enhance efficiency. However, in an era of ever increasing longevity, there are more and more people who are becoming frustrated when calling a government office, a health clinic, a hospital, an airline company, a theater or any other place of business or leisure – to be instructed to press buttons numbered 1, 2, 3 or 4. Sooner or later, someone will find a way to destroy the system and revive human contact.
■ WITH REGARD to senior citizens, the old Yiddish saying – that one mother can look after ten children, but ten children cannot look after one mother – is unfortunately too often true.
Offspring move away both geographically and emotionally, leaving parents to more or less fend for themselves. Many of these parents are widowed and living alone, either out of preference or because they cannot afford to live in a retirement complex. Worse still, they are all but forgot - ten during Jewish Holiday periods such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover when families and friends get together over a repast. Yediot Aharonot last week published news of a special program introduced by the Ministry for Social Affairs whereby Golden Age citizens are helping each other, with the younger and more agile ones visiting the older ones on a regular basis. 89-year- old Tsilla Roth of Tel Aviv is quoted as saying: “People of my age are in need of support. We have to know that we are not forgotten.” Here again, the longevity issue crops up. As lifestyle and medical advancements con - tinue to add to people’s life spans, more and more individuals will find themselves left to their own devices and desperately in need of company. It’s bad enough that so many have to decide between spending meager pensions on food or medication – but to be left completely alone at age 80 or 90+ can be a devastating experience. The companionship pilot program introduced by the Ministry has 15,000 volunteer senior citizens who are visiting older senior citizens between three to six times a week for an hour at a time. The time factor ensures that neither the visitor nor the person visited gets tired out. The visitor receives a symbolic fee from the ministry; the person visited pays nothing. Roth is visited by retired school teacher Chen Leah , 76, who was also a school prin - cipal. “Tsilla has become a significant part of my life,” says Leah, who regularly visits two other older women. “I have three new friends,” she says, explaining that many of the friends of their younger years have died, and because the surviving women are in poor health, they can’t really go out and socialize. She is very happy to have entered their lives.
Of course there are projects in which members of youth groups spruce up the homes of needy senior citizens by repairing whatever needs fixing and painting in the inside and outside of the apartment. But once they’ve completed their good deeds, they’re gone, whereas people such as Leah keep coming back.
■ EVERY IMMIGRANT community in Israel has contributed to the growth and upbuilding of the country, but not every - one in one group is aware of its own contri - butions, let alone those immigrant groups from other countries.
But in this, Israel’s 70th anniversary year, some of these groups are eager to make their contributions known. Among them are the Italians, the best known of whom in Israel was Enzo Sereni, a great intellectual who was a co-founder of Kibbutz Givat Brenner and an advocate for Jewish-Arab co-exis - tence. During the Second World War, Sereni parachuted into Nazi occupied Europe, was captured and died at Dachau concentra - tion camp. Israel’s most frequently quot - ed demographer and statistician Prof. Ser - gio Della Pergola was born in Trieste, and members of the Corinaldi family are noted for their contributions to architecture and law. Of course there are many others. To celebrate what Italy and Italian Jews have contributed to Israel, the Italian Embassy, together with the Italian Cultur - al Institute and the Italian Jewish Muse - um in Jerusalem are hosting a three-day exhibition at the museum as part of the Piazza, Pasta, Vespa Festival. The annual event always attracts a large crowd, because most of the activities are held in the muse - um courtyard which directly borders Hillel Street. Passers-by, who may not even have known about the festival in advance are attracted by the music and the cuisine, and wander in. One of the highlights of the exhibition will be a biographical display honoring 23 outstanding Italians who settled in the Land of Israel in the 1920s and 1930s. Among the 23 are six Israel Prize laureates. The festival will be open from August 28-30 from 5:30 to 10.30 p.m.
■ IT APPEARS that the #MeToo global movement could have a detrimental effect on Israel’s economy.
Ever since publication last week of allegations of sexual improprieties by Fox fashion chain CEO Harel Wizel , considered to be one of the country’s most astute businessmen, the company’s shares have taken a nose dive. If the board of directors decides to dis - pense with the services of the man who built a fashion empire out of a small cloth - ing company, there is no guarantee that anyone who takes over his role will be as successful. On the other hand, if he is left in his present position, further allegations might surface and further jeopardize the company’s profits. At this moment in time, it looks like a lose-lose situation – though it could possibly blow over.
The big question is how many other leading business executives have emulated Harvey Weinstein , and how many women are suddenly going to come forward to accuse them. While few people would argue that such men deserve to be punished for in one way or another ruining the lives of their victims, in several cases, a lot of time has passed and the men in question have realized the error of their ways and have been behaving themselves. But when a victim comes forward, it’s not only the perpetrator who may get punished, but also his wife and children. He may not have thought about them at the time or his children may not yet have been born, but they’re going to be punished for his sins. It could even cause a rift in his family; but a marital break-up would not really solve the problem or stop the tongue-wagging.
■ ISRAEL’S ETHIOPIAN community doesn’t score too many points in its struggles with officialdom, but at least one major triumph is on the horizon.
The mother and siblings of Sintayehu Shaparou , who competed in the annual Independence Day Bible Quiz in Israel, are due to arrive in Israel before the end of this month. Their request to live in Israel was initially denied, but after much public lobbying, they have finally been granted residency status. A. Y. Katsof, director of The Heart of Israel – through which he raised $10,000 for flights and the relocation of the family to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the north of the country – is thrilled that progress has been made. The Shaparou family are members of the Falash Mura communi - ty in Ethiopia. Shaparou’s father together with his half siblings migrated to Israel 17 years ago, while his mother and remaining family members waited to be approved for immigration.
Even when he came to Israel to participate in the Bible Quiz, Shaparou was forced by the local authorities here to deposit a mon - etary guarantee that he would not stay in Israel, but would leave immediately after the Bible contest. When this became public, there was a huge hue and cry, and Shaparou was permitted to remain – and his immedi - ate family will soon be joining him. But there are still scores of families sep - arated by unyielding Israeli bureaucracy, who cannot understand why, if they were permitted to come on aliyah, their brothers and sisters are banned. The Shaparou case may yet open a much sought-after win - dow of opportunity for other families to be reunited and to realize their dream to live with their relatives in Jerusalem.