Holocaust Survivors Struggle To Survive on Pittance in Israel

Anger Grows Among Last Living Generation

Many Complaints: Israeli Holocaust survivors mount protest over their treatment by the government.
getty images
Many Complaints: Israeli Holocaust survivors mount protest over their treatment by the government.

By Ben Sales

Published November 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“There are still gaps between the response and what’s needed,” said Roni Klinsky, the foundation’s CEO. In the past, “people got less help and weren’t organized enough to get assistance. The state always has troubles. There are wars and new immigrants. But the survivor issue wasn’t a high priority.”

The issues are pressing now, Klinsky says, because of the dwindling number of survivors – it’s the last chance to make a substantive difference for many of them. An estimated 37 survivors die every day in Israel, a rate that within five years would nearly halve the survivor population to just over 110,000.

In the state’s first decades, some Israelis reacted to survivors with ambivalence, deriding them as passive and weak. The Dorner Report, a 2008 government study on public assistance to survivors, charged that “as they built, developed and defended the land … successive governments of Israel neglected the right of survivors to personal reparations.”

Klinsky says attitudes have changed and Israelis now respect the resiliency of Holocaust survivors. The government also has dedicated $1 billion in additional funding to survivors over the past four years. Recently elected Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who often references his father’s Holocaust experience, has added about $28 million in aid to survivors annually over the next five years.

“The State of Israel is trying to aid them to not only die with respect, but to to live with respect,” said Menachem Wagshel, the Social Welfare and Social Services Ministry’s coordinator for Holocaust survivors. “We need to look at the coming years as critical, when we can still assist them to give them the best care.”

Among the challenges facing the government in meeting that commitment is defining just who qualifies as a Holocaust survivor. Following the Dorner Report, the government expanded its definition to include those who escaped or performed forced labor, doubling the number of recognized survivors. Klinsky and Wagshel are now formulating for the first time a unified list of Israeli survivors that they hope to finish within two years.

Wagshel also is creating a government office that will handle all survivor concerns, consolidating a sprawling apparatus.

One potential beneficiary of all that is Ruth Eizenberg, who escaped from Kiev to the Ural Mountains as a child, arriving in Israel in 1972. Eizenberg, 79, has asthma and trouble walking. She lives in a fifth-floor walkup in Jerusalem. A government-funded caretaker who visited her twice weekly was dismissed recently because, Eizenberg said, a nurse misjudged her ability to live unassisted. Eizenberg is requesting the caretaker’s return, but thus far without success.

“It’s hard for me to get home,” she said. “I can barely get into the bath.”

Eizenberg’s most reliable help comes from Yedida Freilich, 25, a student who visits once a week as part of Adopt-a-Safta, a volunteer program founded last year to provide company for lonely survivors. During her last visit, Freilich helped Eizenberg acquire a cane from Yad Sarah, a nonprofit that aids the disabled and elderly.

“When you know you’re seeing the same person on the same day at the same hour, it gives structure to a life that is otherwise inactive,” said Jay Schultz, Adopt-a-Safta’s founder. “It’s a more healthy social and mental environment for the survivor.”

Another new initiative to address survivor loneliness is a community center founded two years ago in a bomb shelter in central Jerusalem. In newly renovated rooms, the center hosts holiday celebrations, lectures and activities for 120 regular attendees.

Jakobovitz frequents a similar center in Tel Aviv. The programing is nice, he says, but the government needs to take more responsibility.

“I want to rest,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of demands. I’d like to live a little better, to go into a store and buy a shirt or shoes that are comfortable. I know this is my last stop and I’m too old to want. I don’t need money to spend, just to live.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.