Israel Must Allow Its Retirees to Live in Dignity, Not in Limbo

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Elderly Israelis at a community center in Jerusalem. An estimated 200,000 Israelis have diabetes but have not been diagnosed.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

The retirement age under Israeli law is 62 or 67, as a function of gender, job and legislative amendments. In other words, the state empowers employers to forcibly retire – i.e., fire – any worker, no matter where or how long he worked; and the employee has little real ability to prevent his own retirement and continue to work on salary.

On the face of it, the law was enacted with good intent. Theoretically, the state is simply assuring that when a person reaches his dotage he isnt forced to continue working, poor thing, with his withered brain and wasted muscles.

But that might have applied once upon a time, when most humans, even in the more technologically advanced parts of the world, labored in the fields, mines and factories. Today, in the developed nations like Israel (did we mention the OECD? ), people in their 60s still have minds and bodies and many can and definitely want to keep working, creating, contributing, being part of society, and not get tossed aside like yesterdays newspaper.

The thing is that with one hand the state forces 67-year-olds to stop working and start watching TV, but it keeps its other hand tightly clenched. It wont let the person make a living any more but doesnt provide even minimal economic resources to live in dignity, essentially reducing the elderly to grubbing in other peoples garbage for food and medicine.

Imagine a person who recently worked as a salaried employee or worse, as a temp, 13 or 17 years part-time for low pay, who is then forced into retirement. The monthly pension of a person like that would be a few hundred shekels. Say for the sake of argument that its a thousand shekels (about $250). Add the government old-age stipend (given through the National Insurance Institute) of 1,500 shekels: Hes reached 2,500 shekels a month. So the state that forces this person to stop working is forcing him to stop living too, or more accurately, is forcing him to live like a dog.

And why is that? What did he do wrong? For what is he being punished? Why, if he wants to continue working and living like a human, isnt he allowed? Why? Is a human being of 67 no longer a human being?

So make up your minds. Either you force people to stop working but supply a decent stipend enabling them to live (say, by supplementing monthly income from pension and social security to something like 7,000 shekels a month), or you enable them to keep working and making a living, insofar as they can, and live like human beings, not like alley cats.

Among the Eskimos, according to the legend, when their elderly turn into a burden on the community, when they cant hunt any more even to just feed themselves, requiring somebody to spend his time caring for them rather than hunting, they get pushed out to sea on ice floes to die. We think that horrifyingly cruel. And what about us, who dont actually kill our elderly but dont let them hunt for food and dont feed them either? Maybe the best thing for us would be to be treated like the Eskimos. Just kill us and be done with it.

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