Soldiers in social wars

It is a moral outrage that people who are invaluable to the health of our society are insufficiently respected, appreciated or compensated.

Social workers protest in the North 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Social workers protest in the North 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The late chief rabbi of Britain Lord Jacobovitz once grieved about the sad state of Jewish education in his country by explaining that “when you pay teachers peanuts, you get monkeys.”
When it comes to Israel’s social workers, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, we at Hakeren Leyedidut, who donate tens of millions of dollars each year to help needy people in Israel, have come to rely heavily on the expertise and cooperation of social workers from the welfare departments of more than 150 local councils. These are our soldiers on the social welfare front, and we as a society, have essentially abandoned them on the front lines.
The social workers I have encountered here over the years, almost without exception, have devoted their lives to helping the weakest, most vulnerable and needy citizens, often during the most difficult periods of their lives. With the ever widening circle of poverty and absence of an effective government safety net in place, many more families will undoubtedly come to need the help of these social workers. It is, therefore, a moral outrage that such talented and dedicated people – educated, experienced and invaluable to the health of our society – are not sufficiently respected, appreciated or compensated for their work.
Faced with the seemingly endless needs of a growing number of clients, they are also illequipped for the tasks they are assigned. Almost daily we receive desperate pleas from mayors and social workers around the country asking us for urgent help for families with basic needs such as food, clothing, medicine, electricity or furniture – needs for which the welfare system has no funds. In the vast majority of cases, the meager budgets provided the social workers do not enable them to provide their clients with any help other than other than empathy.
SOCIAL WORKERS are truly the “salt of the earth” who, with few exceptions, deeply want to help the people and state but aren’t provided the tools to do so. I have myself witnessed occasions when social workers paid out of their own pockets to provide shoes or a warm coat for a child whose parents couldn’t afford it and there was no government budget for such things.
It took a dangerous decline in children’s academic achievements for the government to start investing intensively in the education system; half of the Carmel had to burn down before the government committed to investing in proper fire and rescue services. We must not wait for the welfare system to completely collapse before initiating a war for the country’s social future. And as in any war, our soldiers, the social workers, must be taken care of and well equipped for the mission.

The writer is the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and it’s Israeli arm HaKeren Leyedidut.