President of Israel Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin announced that employees at the President’s Residence will take part in the ZAKA “Don’t Leave them Behind” initiative, by making regular phone calls to check on the health and wellbeing of elderly people and those living alone. This, during a meeting with President Rivlin, Minister for Social Equality and Pensioners MK Meirav Cohen, ZAKA Search and Rescue Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, and the Director-General of the President’s Residence Harel Tubi.

Meshi-Zahav spoke about the “Don’t Leave them Behind” initiative, which aims to maintain regular contact with senior citizens during corona and especially during the lockdown, thereby easing their intense isolation. The campaign was launched after many recent cases in which elderly people and those living alone were only discovered many days and even weeks after they passed away. ZAKA has recorded an increase of 30% on last year of such tragic deaths, largely due to the restrictions that are part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are now dealing with two malignant diseases: coronavirus and loneliness. They are both dangerous and deadly, and we cannot allow the fight against one to mean that we neglect those who are alone, endangering their lives,” said the president, adding that he was very moved to hear how the wonderful and important initiative had been received by the public. “68,000 volunteers in such a short time is an incredible achievement. It is moving and inspiring. To prevent a disaster, you have established something wonderful, making a contribution to developing the medicine against the plague of loneliness.”

He added, “At a time like this, when the level of trust and unity between our tribes is so deeply undermined, you are a bridge of conciliation, of connection. May this act of shining light create more love and fellowship in Am Yisrael.”

Director-General of the President’s Residence Beit HaNasi Harel Tubi: “Beit HaNasi, through its staff, is joining ZAKA’s important and life-saving voluntary initiative to ‘adopt an elderly person’. We will also open a registration line for volunteers to call the elderly and other isolated people. Volunteering will include daily phone calls to relieve their isolation. If members of staff also identify financial and social welfare needs or assistance from government ministries, our corona hotline will be able to give quick and efficient responses.”

Minister for Social Equality and Pensioners MK Meirav Cohen also welcomed the initiative, saying “During the coronavirus pandemic it is important to protect the health of our elderly and to avoid exposure to the virus. But it is no less important to take care of their mental health. Even before the virus, about half of all over-75s said they felt isolated and now, during the crisis, 33% of the elderly population say they are in a worse position.”

“The Ministry of Social Equality and Pensioners’ hotline for the elderly – *8840 – offers calls to relieve isolation, among other services. In addition, we are making significant efforts to get to those who do not come to us on their own initiative, and so we reach out to hundreds of thousands of people, send text messages and go to their houses in order to check how we can assist them. The ministry has a network of over 46,000 volunteers across the country who work together to help the elderly population deal with isolation. It is important that the public knows that we introduced an exception to the lockdown that you are allowed to visit a person in crisis or who needs assistance, and that in this case you are allowed to breach the restriction of distance from your home. We intend to bring an additional issue to the corona cabinet which will encourage people to visit elderly family members who live alone because this is a population that suffers severely from loneliness and is at high risk.”

“At this time, we are working on a long-term plan for dealing with isolation, a national challenge, and we presented its details to the president today. I want to thank President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin and ZAKA Chairman Mr. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and welcome our joint work on this important issue.”

ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav: “I would like to thank the president for the initiative. There is no doubt that Beit HaNasi joining will help this vital initiative a great deal and will encourage many others to join, and I thank him for that.”

“Since the beginning of the year, ZAKA has dealt with 136 cases of elderly people and those who live alone who have been found after death. Even before corona, we had launched an initiative called ‘Neighbor, Watch Out if I’m Missing’, so that if you didn’t see your neighbor for a day or two you would knock on the door and see what was happening. That campaign was a great success. When the coronavirus broke out, we saw a rise of some 30% in severe cases in comparison with 2019. For that reason, we launched an additional campaign called ‘Don’t Leave Them Behind’, connecting volunteers to the elderly and those living alone for a daily phone call. So far, some 68,000 people have joined this important initiative. This really is the best of Israel. If each one of us stops for a minute to think about the neighbors in the building, the old person or the person who lives alone one floor above or below us and makes contact with them, even by phone, we are sure to save lives. Minimum investment for maximum result.”

Attached photo credit: Haim Zach (GPO)