Yelena Elimelech, a 73-year-old woman who immigrated to Israel in the early 1990s has become the symbol of Israeli poverty after opposition leader and Labor party head Isaac Herzog spoke about her on the floor of the Knesset yesterday. But Elimelech is as much a victim of haredi refusal to work and the drain that puts on the country's treasury as she is a failed government social welfare policy.
The Face Of Poverty In Israel
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Yelena Elimelech, a 73-year-old woman who immigrated to Israel in the early 1990s has become the symbol of Israeli poverty after opposition leader and Labor party head Isaac Herzog spoke about her on the floor of the Knesset yesterday, Ynet reported.
Elimelech lives off a government old age pension of NIS 2,723 a month – about $776.
Asked how she can live on $776, Elimelech replied, "Live? That's not a life."
After paying rent on her tiny 291-square-foot state-owned apartment, electricity and other utility bills and for her medicine, Elimelech is left with just NIS 700 – $200 – to buy food, clothing and pay for bus fare.
"The truth is that I am very lucky because I have heating in my apartment. Other elderly people don't even have that," Elimelech reportedly said.
Herzog lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Mr. Prime Minister, do you know how difficult it is to live off NIS 25 [$7] a day? This is the life of an elderly person living on a pension,” Herzog said.
Speaking to Ynet, Elimelech described her life.
"Every day I calculate what to buy, how to buy and where to save. After the payments and the medication, I don't have enough money left for food. I don't buy in the supermarket, for example. I go there like I would go to a museum – just to look. I do my shopping at the market [the open air market or shook] at the end of the day. The fruit and vegetables are not as good, but they cost less. I don't buy meat because I can't afford it. Sometimes I buy chicken,” she said.
1,754,700 people in Israel are poor; 817,200 of them children. 22.7% of senior citizens are poor, and many of them suffer like Elimelech does – or even worse – reportedly seven times more than most countries in the developed world.
Elimelech made came to Israel in 1991 from Belarus, where she was a civil engineer. But she was unable to work as one in Israel and instead was forced to work temporary jobs that did not give her pension rights.
"When I came here I didn't know a word of Hebrew and there was no chance of finding a job as an engineer. So I worked in everything else: Cleaning, kitchen work, caring for elderly people, everything I could find to make a living. I expect the state to help me. My two granddaughters have gone into the army and contributed to the country. My daughter is 100 percent disabled after being injured in a terror attack. I am not asking for luxury, but I am also a human being and I want to live, not just to breathe and sleep. I want to be able to host my granddaughters and buy them cake. I want to have money to travel on the bus and go to a concert once a month,” she said.
"We are being treated like second-class citizens. I would like the finance minister or prime minister to step into my shoes for a day so that they can understand my situation. They don't even see me and my friends,” Elimelech added.
According to a recent National Insurance Institute report, 18.3% of families in Israel feel a lack of food security, meaning they live in fear that they will not have food; 10.5% suffer from serious lack of security, which may include actual hunger.
The International Monetary Fund released a report on Israel's economy yesterday. It reportedly found that even though Israel has a relatively high growth level, Israel's poverty rate is one of the highest among developed countries.
Many of those poor are Arabs and haredim.
Much of haredi poverty, though, is self inflicted. Men choose to study in yeshiva full time well into middle age rather than work, and rely on a combination of state welfare benefits, state subsidies, and charity to survive. Haredim drain away money from the state welfare budget that otherwise could be used to help those who are poor through no fault of their own – like Elimelech and her friends.
In 20 years, 40% of Israel’s population will be either haredi or Arab. If both groups are not integrated into the workforce, Israel’s economic and security outlook is, experts say, not good.