The Poor Woman’s Lamb: The State Of Israel And Its Widows

After my husband died I was entitled to survivors benefits from the Israeli university where he taught. There were all kind of documents that I had to sign in order to complete the transaction, but one paper was especially problematic. It was a contract which specifically stated that in the event that I got remarried I would no longer be eligible to continue getting my late husband’s pension.

I was shocked, I knew about the draconian policies regarding military widows, who lost their benefits if they chose to remarry (that law was changed only in 2009). However, this was not the army, but a public university in the 21st century which was supposed to be an enlightened institution, or so I thought.

I wondered about the legality of such a stipulation, and, for a brief moment, even toyed with the idea of finding a brave Feminist lawyer and challenge the university with a class action suit. But, there were many other pressing issues to take care of, at that time, and I decided to let the matter drop.

The following month, I started receiving widow benefits from the Israeli Social Security (Bituah Leumi). To my surprise, I discovered that the small allowance came with a heavy price. Here it wasn’t only about getting married, but even living with a partner was enough to cost me my benefits. In order to get the less than  2000 ILS, I had to remain single and live on my own.

It is outrageous that at a time when most of our grown children live together with partners, the state of Israel still holds the belief that a woman, at any age, is the financial responsibility of her man.

Under those absurd circumstances it is no wonder that most widows my age will not choose to remarry. While for me getting remarried isn’t necessary, it is a serious problem for some women, for example, for Orthodox Jewish women. A friend  told me that at her religious community widows get married in secret (in order not to lose their benefits), since it is not an option to live in sin.

However becoming a widow at the age of 52, and with life expectancy for Israeli women being 83.6, it is quite surprising that I am supposed to spend the next 30 years alone just so I can keep my  pension.

Lately municipalities started a campaign to encourage students to move in with older people in order to keep them company and to reduce expenses. Students who choose to participate even get a stipend. This is a welcome initiative which serves social and economical purposes.

If keeping company and sharing costs are known benefits, wouldn’t it be more economical for everyone if widows cease to be a one-person household? Why does the state of Israel and its public institutes insist that I stay on my own. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone, our children included, if I share my home with a person my own age?

Widows have suffered enough, there is no reason to make life even harder by confiscating our lamb.

P.S   To be fair, I haven’t called the university for the purpose of writing this post. But to this day no one has notified me that the conditions of getting my husband’s pension have changed since 2007.

About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. I am also an active member of Women Wage Peace and believe that women can succeed where men have failed.
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