Many Israeli seniors are rooting for John McCain, not because of his policies, about which many know very little, but because of his age. They believe that his candidacy proves that a relatively older person can aspire to hold a responsible position. They themselves established a Pensioners’ Party just before the last election and it won a respectable seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
That party, however, has done little to improve the lot of the elderly or to change their image. The latter is important to Rivka Michaeli, a 70-year-old actress. She is insulted by the questions frequently asked her about why she continues to work.
“People have the impression that anyone over 60 should be living on his or her savings,” she says. “Those know-it-alls are already working out our life expectancy; they just want us to disappear. If, as the slogan has it, ‘the world belongs to the young,’ then we are just taking up space.”
Commercial TV stations are generally guided by that approach. Their programs and their commercials are certainly aimed at the young. Only Israel’s little-watched public TV station is different. To the limited extent that it has ads, they mostly relate to upmarket retirement homes, the number of which is growing rapidly.
But older Israelis are interested in things other than retirement homes, and they have the money to pay for them. According to a recent study, 70 percent of the public’s money belongs to those over 50.
This fact was recently commented upon by veteran advertising executive David Fogel.
“Today those over 60 are at the top of their powers and I’m sure that the advertising world will eventually sober up on this issue,” he says.
Many of Israel’s cultural institutions are already aware of the fact that elderly men and women are a prime market for them. The Cameri Theater doesn’t have full statistics, but it notes that one-third of its subscribers have a senior citizens card, which gives them a discount on their tickets. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has more exact statistics. Sixty percent of its 25,000 subscribers are between the ages of 50 and 70.
Dr. Israel Doron, who has written a book on how the elderly are treated by the legal system in this country, points out that “an aging population is not solely an Israeli phenomenon.”
“The situation in Israel,” he declares, “is actually less acute than in Europe because the high birth rates of the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox balance the low birth rates of other groups to some extent. But the issue still has a uniquely Israeli angle. The Zionist ethos aspired to build a new Jew and this was very much connected to young people. The farmer and the fighter were images of youth. Old age was not part of the Zionist picture of the world.”