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Israel's 'next biggest crisis': a youthful state with an ageing populace

In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo, Baruch Shub Holocaust survivor poses for a photo at his apartment in a senior citizens' home in Kfar Saba, Israel. While most of his fellow Jews were being killed or brutalized in Nazi death camps and ghettos, Shub a
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

On the 30th anniversary of Nofei Yerushalayim -- one of two sheltered housing institutions in Israel run by its residents -- senior citizens of all backgrounds gather with food, music and smiles to celebrate their home and their lives. Residents of the village take pride in their first-class care and high-degree of independence over their lives but is this idyllic home reflective of the status quo for all older adults in Israel?

“[Nofei Yerushalayim] is very special and multi-faceted, I felt I was joining a community when I moved here,” 82 year-old resident and dual-British citizen Pamela Lovell told i24NEWS. “We have use of a swimming pool; daily activities from gymnastics to art workshops; access to an onsite mini-market and a restaurant as well as 24-hour medical supervision if needed,” she explained.

Residents, aged from 69 to 96 years-old, are encouraged to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle whether that be through continued employment or by volunteering in community projects; an approach that the non-profit institution prides itself on as unique.

“In Israel we have the mentality of a young country and sometimes we forget that the elderly can still contribute,” Pnina Sulzbacher, Nofei Yerushalayim CEO said in an interview with i24NEWS. “Find out if the person was a former teacher and maybe they want to give private lessons in a certain field,” she said, explaining how society could create value at both ends of the spectrum.

“We must not see the older population as a burden but rather how we can use them,” Sulzbacher continued, “the longer I am here, the more I learn that this is the right way to navigate through the older years of life.”

For a small portion of society, housing institutions like Nofei provide a fitting way to “age with grace” but for many others who rely on governmental subsidies, this is not the case.

AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Annual reports released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation (OECD) have repeatedly warned that Israel lags behind other developed nations when it comes to care for the elderly population. Compounded by the fact that Israel’s senior population is among the highest in the western world, the socio-economic impact is forecasted to be substantial.

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) predicts that in the next 20 years the elderly population in Israel is set to swell by 77%. Declining fertility rates, an increase in life expectancy and high ‘aliyah’ [immigration] rates of older people, all have a part to play.

Demographic issues unique to the makeup of Israel’s diverse society also make planning-appropriate health and social services for the elderly a challenge.

Take Israel’s 220,000 Holocaust survivors whose difficult journey into their twilight years is intensified by their traumatic memories. Some have criticized Israel’s government for not doing enough to financially or therapeutically support this dwindling population, many of whom live in abject poverty and isolation.

Turning to Israel’s sizeable Arab population, Yossi Heyman CEO of elderly care NGO ESHEL explains that their life expectancy tends to be 2-3 years less than Jewish Israelis. This he says is rooted in social issues: partly due to a diet that is richer in sugar and partly linked to Arab male employment in the hard labor industries.

However, Israel is not alone in dealing with the phenomenon of an ageing population which has been coined the “defining issue of our time” and is set to exert huge strain on healthcare systems around the globe.

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has previously called the state’s lack of preparedness a “ticking time bomb” while Director General of the ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, said it was a “demographic drama” that “we must face up to.” Meanwhile, the Knesset has collectively dubbed it the “next biggest crisis”, signalling unusually broad concern over the issue.

Despite this year introducing a Nursing Care Program that aims to inject 1 billion NIS into boosting the service, there is still a segment of the population that has slipped under the radar.

As Heyman explains, “Israel’s system is still more focused on people with reduced functionality.” By this, he is referring to those individuals deemed as “vulnerable” with serious medical problems and a heavy reliance on the health and social care system.

Today, since life expectancy has dramatically increased, Heyman tells i24NEWS, 65-year-olds are no longer considered “old” as they once were. With almost a quarter of their lives still to yet to live out after retirement, many wish to continue contributing to society. “The infrastructure in place for this segment of the population is insufficient,” he says.

By harnessing what the World Health Organization (WHO) has coined as “active aging”, ESHEL focuses on empowering and integrating this age bracket into society. From improving digital literacy to securing employment opportunities, the incubator works to combat ageism. Alongside this and other initiatives, the startup nation last year launched its first ever Innovation Lab to boost technologies aimed at improving quality of life for the elderly.

And, while it may not be a silver bullet to the heart of the problem, institutions like Nofei Yerushalayim that encourage the elderly population to continue being architects of their own lives provides an exemplary philosophy that should be adopted by governmental bodies and civil societies alike.

After all, 65 is the new 25.

Jesseca Manville is a journalist and news editor on the English web desk



That's a blessing..now the young must get busy building new generations.

This is no phenomenon. It’s a problem facing the entire Western Nations. The Baby Boomers are now becoming a burden, something we tend to forget. It was the Baby Boomers that brought us to the high tech digital age. As a fellow baby boomer I often wonder whether to remain in Switzerland or buy a house on some tropical paradise. Still thinking.

Israel have a very promising opportunity to incubate and ally with The people of Biafra to curb and fill this gap. Biafran people are the only race and nation on earth that support Israel 1000%. We share similar cultural and believe system. Biafran population is growing, educated, young and ready to support Israel. We need to get our independent from Nigeria and ally with Isreal to preserve the Jewish nation, democracy, race and Jerusalem. It has to be now and quick. Israel needs to support Biafra as soon as possible.

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