Helping those the system fails
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