Rose, a 69-year-old divorcee, works three care-giving shifts to pay her bills.
Following a cancer diagnosis and surgery, she had to stop working and now lives off minimal National Insurance payments. 86-year-old Barry and his wife Celia can’t afford to live in sheltered accommodation and rent a small apartment in Tel Aviv. Barry is incontinent following surgery for prostate cancer. Barely affording weekly groceries, they now need to lay out for medication and necessary accessories.
Marcy, 72 years old and recently widowed, is attempting to keep the small family business going following her husband’s death. Since they arrived in Israel five years ago they rapidly used up the small pot of savings they brought with them. She calculates carefully in order to subsist on limited government payments.
These folks, and many more like them, are former Southern Africans. Some made Aliyah recently and some have been in Israel for several years. The common denominator is that they all had somewhere to turn to at a difficult time in their lives. Telfed, the go-to organisation for former Southern Africans in Israel, stepped up to offer practical support, counselling and financial assistance where no one else would. After a careful evaluation of documentation, Telfed facilitated three months’ rent for Rose from the Special Urgent Relief Fund as she recuperated. Barry and Celia receive monthly assistance so that they can afford to buy diapers, medicine and a hot meal, with weekly visits from a student volunteer participating in Telfed’s PRAS Student Mentoring and Scholarship Programme. Marcy receives a financial stipend and gratis counselling sessions with Telfed’s Social Worker.
Many Southern Africans recognise Telfed as the organisation that greets people at the airport and advises potential olim at Aliyah fairs, but far fewer realise how the support Telfed offers extends long after that heady passage through Ben Gurion airport. Proudly entering its 70th year, Telfed is busy as ever tending to the needs of thousands of new and veteran olim. From financial assistance to lower-cost housing, assisting people to build social networks and awarding student bursaries, caring for the elderly and lone soldiers to helping people find jobs – Telfed caters to a full range of needs and ensures that no one in the community feels alone in facing their challenges in a new country.
A growing concern is the wellbeing of senior Southern Africans in Israel. Of the 5 132 elderly that are registered with Telfed, 38% are over 80. Over the past year, 40% of funds available for distribution to the needy went to elderly community members.
A recent report in Haaretz newspaper stated that more than 1/3 of immigrants to Israel live under the poverty line. The cost of living in Israel is 15.05% higher than in United States and salaries can be up to 20% lower.
Whilst Israel is a wonderful place to live with extensive opportunities, Telfed’s social worker Ariela Siegel remarks that is it “incredibly hard to grow old in Israel when one does not have financial arrangements solidly in place.” The cost of living is high and National Insurance payments are significantly less than the minimum wage.
Only a tiny percentage of elderly southern Africans can afford to live in retirement villages or sheltered accommodation. “Some of our clients sorely need protected living but simply can’t come close to affording it, so they suffer in silence at home. Telfed is there for those clients who don’t have a financial backing, but need support and assistance in the community” (Daniela Shapira, Telfed’s Community Services Administrator)
Former Southern Africans have seen the value of their South African work pensions shrink over the years due to rand devaluation. Many Southern African olim who had planned to live off their pensions find this is no longer possible and have no alternative arrangements to fall back on.
Israelis are blessed to be some of the longest living in the world today, placing second out of 170 countries for life expectancy. The downside of this is that many senior citizens outlive their savings.
Thanks to the generosity of the Southern African community both in Cape Town and in Israel, elderly Southern Africans in Israel are not abandoned.
The mother of a recipient recently wrote “thank you for assisting [my mother] not only to survive but to hold on to her self-respect which she cannot live without.” To reach one’s twilight years and have to struggle with the uncertainty can be distressing.
A wonderful network of Telfed donors, (South African Jews renowned for their sense of social responsibility), ensure that our elderly folk are supported and embraced by their community of origin.
With life expectancy and Aliyah rates consistently rising over the past five years, Telfed’s responsibility is expected to grow in this sphere.