The Graying of Israel - Coping with an Increasingly Elderly Population

By Meyers, Nechemia | The World and I, June 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Graying of Israel - Coping with an Increasingly Elderly Population

Meyers, Nechemia, The World and I

Victor Pessin admits to some resentment. Before he came to Israel in 1990, from what was then Leningrad, he was both a government research institute engineer and an after-hours sports writer. Now he is a security guard at a Tel Aviv school. Unfortunately, although Pessin is a vigorous 61-year-old, he is "too old" to get a job that uses his professional skills in Israel. In fact, he is lucky to have a job at all.

His situation is typical. One-fifth of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union over the last decade have been over 60 when they touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport. "We were consigned to the trash basket," Pessin grumbles with more than a touch of bitterness. Yet, however understandable his attitude may be, he quickly admits that he and all these elderly immigrants are better off than they would have been had they remained in Russia. There most people his age are not only jobless but may even be starving. In Israel, a social security net protects older immigrants as it does all older Israelis.

Indeed, the number of senior citizens is steadily going up in Israel, as it is in other Western countries. Since 1955 the elderly--namely those over 65--have increased sevenfold and the general population has increased slightly more than threefold. Likewise the proportion of aged Israelis has risen from 4 percent of the country's inhabitants in the 1950s to 10 percent today. For Jews, the number is 12 percent (as compared to 3 percent for Arabs).

Even more startling is the increase in number of the "old-old," people who are at least 75. Israel is home to some 250,000 such men and women, ten times as many as in the 1950s. A nation once defined by the youthful presence and pioneer vigor of the kibbutznik is becoming increasingly aware of the concerns of the elderly.

Aches and aging in the workplace

Many of the "old-old" suffer from infirmities and are restricted in their lifestyles, but 86-year-old Shneior Lifson, a professor at the Weizmann Institute, still rides a bicycle. In fact, he rides it to work. Lifson antedates the State of Israel. Indeed, he first saw the light of day before the British Mandate. He was born in Tel Aviv when what is now Israel was still part of the Ottoman Empire. After graduating from high school he left Tel Aviv for the Valley of Jezre'el, where he spent eleven years as a kibbutznik. Only afterward did he embark on his scientific studies. These brought him first to the Hebrew University and then to Rehovot's Weizmann Institute.

His long career, which included a stint as the institute's scientific director, "should have ended" some twenty years ago, he admits. But Lifson "forgot" to stop his studies of biological molecules. When he did finally change directions, he turned his attention to evolution and more specifically to the question of how life began, about which he has recently written several fascinating articles.

Asked whether it was still possible to do serious scientific research at his age, Lifson replied: "I can't give you a scientific answer to that question. But I can say with certainty that there are some scientists who stopped doing original research long before they retired and others who went on being creative long after retirement age.

"Here at the Weizmann Institute," he continued, "retirement officially begins at 65, after which a professor can no longer hold administrative positions. But from then until the age of 80, he can, if he so desires, ask for permission, year by year, to go on working--if he can find outside funds to finance his research. In rare cases, like my own, a department head may allow somebody in his unit to continue even after 80."

When Lifson looks around the institute campus, he sees himself as part of a flourishing institution. This would not be the case had he remained a kibbutznik. A significant percentage of Israel's collective settlements are in decline. More than 50 percent of kibbutz-born children have left their settlements.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Graying of Israel - Coping with an Increasingly Elderly Population


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?