The Labor, Welfare and Health Committee discussed on Tuesday the risk that soup kitchens servicing Holocaust survivors will be closed down. During the debate, which was initiated by MKs Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp), Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi), Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) and Avraham Naguisa (Likud), committee chairman MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu) pledged that soup kitchens in Israel will not be closed. ”The solution will be found within three months during negotiations between the relevant bodies. Until then, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services has pledged to make certain that they remain open.”
The Claims Conference, which allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors, decided to stop funding dozens of soup kitchens that feed thousands of Holocaust survivors, leaving the facilities in danger of closing down.
The Claims Conference allocates millions of shekels a year to soup kitchens, which are run by NGOs supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Eli Groner, the director general of the Prime Minister`s Office, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aware of the issue and had instructed him to present a solution to the Labor Committee. ”Read my lips: Soup kitchens in Israel will not be shut down,” he said. ”Holocaust survivors will continue to receive this service from the state.”
Shlomo Gur, vice president of the Claims Conference, said a mechanism was needed to make certain that those who eat in the designated soup kitchens are in fact Holocaust survivors. ”When such a mechanism is found, we will resume our funding,” he told the committee. ”It can be a magnetic card for the survivors, or any other method.”
Eliezer Yablon, the director general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, declared that ”the soup kitchens will not be closed down, despite the fact that the Claims Conference has not allocated the budget. All those who need food receive it. We understand the Claims Conference`s position, but we do not accept it.”
MK Shmuli said, ”In 30 years we will look back and not understand how we did not find a solution to this disgrace. Out of the 180,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, between 20-30 percent live beneath the poverty line, and all we do is explain to them why they do not fit the criteria. The State of Israel is shirking its responsibility and is throwing the survivors to the [non-profit] organizations. Every day in the Finance Committee, tens of billions of shekels are transferred from here to there; people are fighting like lions for the tycoons, but an organization that cares for Holocaust survivors is given 8,000 shekels a year.”
Miryam Greiver, a Holocaust survivor, said she was ”shocked” by the current situation. ”We keep on talking, but the Holocaust survivors are nearing the end of their lives. Friends of mine die every day,” she told the committee. ”The time has come for the Social Affairs Ministry, the prime minister, the Treasury, everyone, to unite and say: `We are really going to help the Holocaust survivors, give them respect during the final years of their lives and give them money`. I would rather die than enter a soup kitchen. It is very difficult for an adult.”
In response, committee chairman Elalouf said, ”Everybody respects Holocaust survivors, and the soup kitchens are necessary given the difficult state of the survivors. The essence is good, but the method is lacking.”
Turning to Greiver, he said: ”I apologize if, God forbid, we have offended you. I too get lost in the depths of the bureaucracy involved in the treatment of Holocaust survivors.”