Court to Hear Suit by Woman Who Says JNF Isn't Paying Her Enough Rent

Sherwood claims that the JNF has not fulfilled its part of the contract they signed years ago.

Lily Sherwood, 85, did not think she would live to see the year 2012. The fact that she did so constitutes what she calls "my trouble." But it is also trouble, she says, for one of the most powerful bodies in the country: the Jewish National Fund. Nine years ago, Sherwood linked her fate with the JNF, thinking she would not survive another decade.

Next month the suit she ended up bringing against the organization two years ago will go to court. In it, Sherwood claims that the JNF has not fulfilled its part of the contract they signed years ago, allowing the organization to take possession of her small Jerusalem apartment after she dies, while in the meantime it would pay her rent that would allow her to "live in dignity."

"When I signed the contract with JNF, I thought: 'Fine, I may have another 10 years to live at most.' But they also didn't think I would live, because for them it's not good that I am still here. They are losing money," she says.

"They took advantage of my innocence. They linked the monthly rent to the dollar and I did not know it. Now my savings are gone, I have no assets and I receive less than NIS 4,000 from the JNF every month. There were months when I didn't receive even close to NIS 3,000."

Sherwood, who was born in Bulgaria and lived in France and England, came to live in Israel 28 years ago and moved to Jerusalem's Nayot neighborhood. In 1998 she, like some of her friends, approached the JNF to arrange a way to live out the last part of their lives without financial worries. The contract they signed with the organization stated that it would pay them a monthly rent of $1,500, according to a system that had been in place since the 1950s. Then, just as Sherwood was about to close the deal, JNF reduced the amount to only $1,075.

"At first I wasn't under pressure because of my age and I thought that if people make such a shameful offer they could go to hell," she says.

But five years later, Sherwood says, a JNF representative approached her and persuaded her to reconsider. "By then it was different. I could see the end. And it was a logical amount of money for me to live on."

When she signed the contract, the exchange rate was giving her NIS 5,155 a month. "To negotiate with the JNF is to negotiate with a shark," Sherwood says now. But at the time, she felt it was the safest alternative.

But then, in 2006, the world economy plunged and the dollar fell to NIS 3. At almost 80 years of age, all but alone in the world, Sherwood found herself dependent on a constantly shrinking income.

"Life expectancy has risen, prices have risen. I have more medical expenses and my savings are gone because I'm still alive," she explains.

"There is such a huge gap between what I'm asking and what they stand to gain after my death. What am I asking? NIS 85,000." That, according to the suit, is the amount of money she has lost since 2003.

"That's not even the amount of the annual depreciation of the car belonging to JNF's director general," says Sherwood's attorney, Boaz Arad.

According to the suit, the JNF misled Sherwood into believing that no matter what, the dollar rate would not go below the amount stated in the contract.

Arad concedes that the court may not have a legal reason to find for Sherwood, because no one forced her to sign the contract. But that would not be the end of the matter, he says, adding: "There is a moral issue here, what they call 'social justice.'"

JNF responded that five years ago its leadership decided to stop signing rental agreements, and added that the leadership only became aware for the first time of Sherwood's case following Haaretz's query.

"The leadership has instructed that the issue be scrutinized and a decision will then be made," the JNF said.

Lily Sherwood
Emil Salman