Defining ‘Poor’

Today’s headline claiming that there are 1.8 million poor Israelis arouses the question of who is considered poor.

Hundreds of millions of people in Africa don’t have running water and electricity.

Surely no one in Israel is THAT poor.

I received a newsletter from a charity organization who proclaimed that these 1.8 million people are not only poor, they are also hungry.

A quarter of Israelis are hungry?

I’m curious to know how many of the 1.8 million poor Israelis own the latest iPhones and plasma TVs. Or made smachot this year in fancy halls.

On what does the Bituach Leumi base its figures?

The charts appear to be based on income per household.

This is a problematic metric, which ignores other key factors in one’s financial situation:

  • Assets and properties
  • Undeclared income
  • Intellectual assets such as education and skills which enable upward mobility
  • Shared family wealth

A second problem is the self-definition of poverty and desired standard of living. People of minimal means can feel rich when they eat their delicious Friday night meal, and people with many luxuries can feel deprived if they can’t go skiing in Switzerland this Chanuka.


The government has found a great solution to improve our “rating” relative to the other countries in the OECD, namely printing money and transferring it to low-income families, in the form of welfare benefits.

This band-aid solves a political problem but not a deep social one.

Poverty is a wide spectrum and remedies must be tailor-made.

We, the people who really care about helping poor people, must better define and identify those who are in need using professional assessment tools.

And then we must determine and measure what models truly relieve poverty in the long term.

Those who are utterly destitute, ill and disabled must receive sustenance, shelter and relief.

Those who are raising families must receive financial coaching and  budget planning skills.

Those who are young must receive inspiring education towards employability, financial literacy and the benefit of living independently within one’s means.

Let’s redefine “poor” in Israel today and make smart decisions on how to allocate resources to truly help them.

About the Author
Mindy (Wenner) Ajzner is the founder and CEO of Chaim BePlus, a nation-wide non-profit organization teaching courses in financial education to high school students and Sherut Leumi girls. She made aliya from Toronto, Canada and has a B.Ed. and M.A. in Jewish Studies and a Senior Bookkeeping Diploma. Mindy lives in Ra'anana.
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