Help­ing those the sys­tem fails

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BYSANDYRASHTY

WHEN ANNA moved to Israel in the 1957, it was a dream ful­filled. Born in a con­cen­tra­tion camp, she was de­ter­mined to give her fam­ily the op­por­tu­ni­ties she never had as a child grow­ing up in the for­mer Soviet Union and Poland.

“Israel was the only place I knew I could live as a Jew,” she says. The mother-of-three worked in fi­nance and later set up a club for chil­dren whose par­ents worked long hours. She also de­vel­oped a pas­sion for mar­tial arts, teach­ing judo and krav maga.

To­day, Anna feels let down by the Is­raeli wel­fare sys­tem. Sit­ting in her cold apart­ment in Or Akiva, by the coast, the 77-year-old says she does not know what she would do with­out the help of Meir Panim. The Is­raeli char­ity en­deav­ours to sup­port 1.7 mil­lion Is­raelis — 22 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion — who are af­fected by poverty.

“The wel­fare sys­tem in Israel does not care about me,” Anna re­flects. “They do not see peo­ple in need. They see ‘cases’. They have for­got­ten their peo­ple.

“Some­thing has to be done. It is not just about me, or other Holo­caust sur­vivors, or other el­derly peo­ple who helped build this coun­try and de­serve a min­i­mum amount of re­spect and dig­nity. It is about peo­ple at any age, the fam­i­lies and the chil­dren who need help.

“We have to talk about what is hap­pen­ing. We have to spread the word.”

Two years ago, Anna un­der­went back surgery. Al­though a wel­fare sys­tem rep­re­sen­ta­tive came to see her, no im­me­di­ate sup­port re­sulted.

“There was no one to help me get dressed or go to the bath­room. If it was not for my friends [or Meir Panim], I do not know what I would have done.

“Af­ter two-and-a-half months I got a call from the woman in wel­fare. She asked if I could get dressed by my­self. I told her: ‘Now, I do not need you.’”

Anna also re­lays sto­ries of oth­ers the sys­tem has failed. “I have a friend who is 83. She faints all the time. The wel­fare work­ers vis­ited her at home but said she looked fine be­cause she had make-up on. They wait un­til you have no dig­nity left un­til they help you.” Ac­cord­ing to Meir Panim, s o me s u r v i v o r s h a v e re­turned to Ger­many for a bet­ter lifestyle. Oth­ers seek sup­port from non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions but many suf­fer in si­lence.

Ilanit Chafuta, who man­ages Meir Panim’s branch in Or Akiva, comes over to give Anna a hug. She says they have de­vel­oped a “mother and daugh­ter” re­la­tion­ship, adding: “This is not work, this is my life. The third sec­tor [non-profit sec­tor] does too much but we do not have a choice. The re­al­ity forces us to work.”

Known as the “An­gel of

Or Akiva” among lo­cals,

Ms Chafuta — who was raised in a fos­ter home — has worked with the poor­est in so­ci­ety for more than two decades. She has watched the sit­u­a­tion grad­u­ally de­te­ri­o­rate and lays the blame at the door of the gov­ern­ment. “Peo­ple need love, they need hu­man con­tact — not just food. They need the whole pack­age,” she says.

There are piles of chil­dren’s clothes in a room at the lo­cal Meir Panim cen­tre (chil­dren ac­count for more than a third of those in poverty). Some take a shower be­fore a meal of schnitzel, rice and salad. For many there is no food in their homes. A mother sits out­side, smok­ing a cig­a­rette and check­ing her smart­phone, while her six chil­dren, fa­thered by four men, en­joy a meal and draw pic­tures with do­nated colour­ing pens.

Ms Chafuta be­lieves chil­dren can es­cape a cy­cle of poverty through a com­bi­na­tion of “lots of love, food, warmth, fur­ni­ture at home, an ed­u­ca­tion. If a child is cold or hun­gry they can­not study. If we sup­port them, they can fin­ish their bagrut [ex­ams]

For many there is no food in their homes

Meir Panim’s Ilanit Chafuta with client Anna

Daniel Berke­ley

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