Glad tidings of Israel’s hi-tech boom and miraculous economic advancements have not brought good will for all men. In the promised land of milk and honey, one in four Israelis still live in poverty, according to last week’s report by the National Social Security Institute.
With more than 400,000 families falling below the poverty line, Israel has the second-highest poverty rate in the developed world, behind only Mexico, according to statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
The Israeli government defines poverty in this case as a family or individual that has an annual income of less than USD $9,500. Incredibly, one in every five Israeli families somehow manage to live on a mere USD $791 a month. By comparison, an American family of four is considered poor when their annual income is below USD $23,283.
It was these kinds of economic hardships that drove hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets in protest two years ago. The severe socio-economic inequalities in Israel became a key factor in last year’s election, but sadly little has been done to relieve the extreme poverty of so many families struggling to make ends meet.
In a failed attempt to preempt political fallout over the distressing Social Security report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally appointed a new commission to kick-start promised socio-economic changes. However, he did not specify what exactly these changes would entail or who would benefit, and public tempers are on the rise once again. More strikes and protests are now brewing and will surely be putting even more heat on Netanyahu’s fragile government.
Since the government is either unable or unwilling to help, a number of new nonprofit organizations in Israel have initiated programs to support poor families. Many are run by the Haredim (Orthodox Jewish), and some Christian organizations are also increasing their support for the poor in Zion. But much more needs to be done.
Poor families in Jerusalem have been hardest hit by the recent storms and ongoing frigid temperatures of Israel’s coldest winter in living history. Some are still without food or electricity. What a great opportunity for Christians around the world to share a little warmth and love with a needy family in Israel for the Holiday Season.
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