Though some people prefer cold temperatures over Israel’s hot summers, the country’s struggling citizens and especially the elderly, find winter a particularly challenging time to live in dignity.
“Israel’s buildings are made from stone and cement,” explained Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development for Meir Panim charity organization. “This makes the inside of apartments colder than the outside!”
Generally, people heat their homes in the Holy Land through the use of air-conditioners that are also able to blow warm air, electric floor heaters or, sometimes, kerosene heaters, which is particularly dangerous and smelly. Each of these are expensive to run, especially when on a limited budget. Additionally, if one can actually afford to use a heating appliance, once turned off, the home immediately becomes cold again due to building structure.
“Meir Panim Restaurant-Style soup kitchens, Meals-on-Wheels and after-school programs for youth at risk become especially busy during the winter months,” shared Rozmaryn. “Israel’s impoverished citizens and especially the elderly suffer from the blistering cold when home. They become desperate for a heated place to sit and have a warm, fresh meal.”
The Central Bureau of Statistics found that 21.2 percent of Israel’s population live in poverty. This is based on data from 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive information is available. MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) stated of this report, “Netanyahu speaks of ‘a victorious economy’ and Israel has once again maintained the dubious title of poverty champion of the West.”
This alarmingly number hits Israel’s senior citizens especially hard as many are Holocaust survivors with no one to care for them. Pensions and welfare benefits, especially for those with little to no years of work in Israel since they immigrated from foreign lands at an older age or lacked the needed education to make a decent living in the country, do not even cover basic living costs, like food. Many elderly seniors can be found huddling under thread bare blankets in order to stay warm.
With minimal government assistance, many chilled citizens are forced to turn to charities to keep warm and enjoy a proper hot meal. “Meir Panim has five branches throughout Israel, four of which are in some of Israel’s coldest regions, northern Safed, Tiberias, Or Akiva, and mountainous Jerusalem,” continued Rozmaryn. “Especially during the winter, we make sure to prepare hot soups filled with fresh vegetables along with our daily chicken, meat and side dishes to warm people up.”
In 2017, Israel’s government passed a bill that provides approximately 247,000 senior citizens with an annual “heating grant” of NIS 562 (approx. $150). Unfortunately, due to the dire circumstances of so many of the recipients, this money is often used towards other essentials, like food and medicine.
“We, at Meir Panim, feel that anything we can do to ease the suffering of impoverished Israelis is our mission,” said Rozmaryn. “We are grateful to our donors, who feel the same.”