Israel’s new poor: Middle class hit hard by coronavirus economic fallout

With over one million Israelis now unemployed, local charity reports a 200% increase in the number of families asking for help.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As the unemployment rate in Israel soars to a record high of 25 percent and more than one million Israelis are now out of work, many middle class Israeli families are struggling. Families where both parents have been laid off or are self-employed are among the hardest hit.

Rami Sela, a married father of three from Ramat Gan, spoke with Yediot Ahronot about his family’s struggle. Sela and his wife own a wig store in Bnei Brak, and due to Ministry of Health closures on non-essential businesses, the couple has been left with no income.

“I used every shekel that I had to get new merchandise ahead of the Passover holiday, which is usually a peak time for my business,” he said.

“The sales around Passover typically sustain my business for two or three months. This year, nothing. People are not calling. I offered home delivery for the wigs, but everyone is scared and nobody wants to spend money right now. In the meantime, I still have to pay rent and property taxes,” he said.

Sela said that his family’s standard of living has already fallen due to the economic hardships his business is facing. “No more steaks, we only eat chicken that costs 20 shekels,” said Sela.

“If we used to throw out the orange peel, now we make jam with it. In the future, instead of chicken, we’ll be eating bread and cheese.” he told Yediot.

Osnat Marom, a married mother of four from Ramat Gan, is also grappling with the new economic reality. A child daycare center owner and esthetician, both of her businesses have been closed due to the Ministry of Health guidelines. Her husband has been placed on unpaid leave. Because Marom was self-employed, she is not entitled to unemployment benefits.

“You work all your life, paying income tax and social security, yet when you need help, you’re told you don’t deserve a penny,” she told the paper.

“I took it hard. I collapsed, physically and mentally. I suffer from nightmares at night,” she said.

Local aid organization Chasdei Naomi reported a 200 percent increase in families asking for food donations.

“Last week, we received over 25,000 calls. The phone lines are so busy that people are reaching out to us via email and fax,” Moshe Cohen, the CEO of the organization, said. “People who used to donate food to us are now asking us for food.”

Cohen said there has been an overall 20 percent increase in food donations, but this is not sufficient to keep up with the rising demand. “We’ve contacted the CEOs of big companies, who are happy to donate us, but in the same breath ask for help for their employees that they’ve laid off.”

The crisis has also impacted the organization’s volunteer network, who are critical in making sure the food gets to those who need it. “We usually have around 20,000 volunteers who help us distribute food each year,” said Cohen. This year, there are just a handful of people who are able to help.

“Now, we will have to decide who gets food for the holiday and who won’t.”