War-time welfare

Menomadin Foundation partners with academics to create new roadmap for Israel’s post-Oct. 7 welfare system

Report features 18 chapters on populations and services affected by the ongoing war; those involved hope that recommendations will be implemented

The Oct. 7 terror attacks and resulting war put considerable stress on Israel’s already stretched-too-thin welfare system with both novel war-related challenges and by exacerbating existing problems. A new three-way partnership of academia, philanthropy and government is looking to bring fresh ideas to improve the welfare system in light of these additional strains.

Last month, the Menomadin Foundation presented to the Israeli Welfare Ministry a report titled, “Welfare following war,” a 143-page document that was initiated and edited by Hebrew University researchers, comprising 18 chapters written by a combination of academics and practitioners. The report serves as an addendum, albeit a major one, to a similar strategic roadmap that the foundation presented to the ministry in 2022. 

“The welfare system, in the fullest sense of the term, found itself needing to deal with levels of need that we never knew before. The system didn’t know how to deal with this number of people with those needs, not to mention the fact that the system has been underfunded for years,” Michal Almog-Bar, the head of of the Center for the Study of Civil Society and Philanthropy at Hebrew University’s School of Social Work and one of the editors of the report, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“So we asked faculty who work with us to look at what’s happening in the field and think of recommendations, things that aren’t complicated and actually can be implemented. That’s how this document was written. It’s not an academic work,” she said. “Each chapter deals with a different field or different population that the welfare system in Israel needs to deal with.”

These chapters look at both populations and services that arose because of the war — the families of people who were killed, survivors, internally displaced people, the families of reservists — and those that were already being dealt with by the welfare system, which the war affected in some way. For instance, one chapter deals with how the war has affected Israel’s elderly population, another focuses on people with disabilities and one on the need to create a program to train parents to instill resilience in their children to help them handle times of war and emergency.

Almog-Bar, who launched the project at the end of last year, said the report is meant to serve as both a strategic road map for the ministry with broader policy recommendations as well as a practical guide for people in the field, such as how to turn a group of displaced people into a “community.” 

“The idea was — as people who come from academia and philanthropy — to bring our knowledge to the welfare system,” she said.

Haim Taib, the president and founder of the Menomadin Foundation, said it was critical to address the country’s welfare services.

“The events of Oct. 7 and the subsequent war have reshaped the urgent need to bolster Israel’s welfare system,” he said in a statement. “Today, a significant portion of our population, comprising diverse groups, depends on social services. Our collective resilience, both short and long-term, hinges on prioritizing the mental and physical well-being of all citizens.”

Merav Galili, CEO of the Menomadin Foundation, said her organization considers funding this kind of strategic planning work to be an effective way of achieving the social justice results that it is looking for. “This is not ivory tower work; it’s practical,” she said. “It’s easy for the minister to take [the recommendations] and just do it.”

Minister of Welfare and Social Security Ya’akov Margi hailed the “fruitful collaboration between academia, the private sector, and the Ministry of Welfare,” saying in a statement that these types of partnerships can “play a significant role in addressing social and personal challenges, as they are rooted in research.”

All of the parties involved said they hoped and planned to see the recommendations in the report implemented to at least some extent.

“Margi listened to us and said he’d bring it forward,” Almog-Bar told eJP. “We hope that at least some of the recommendations will be adopted.”

John Gal, a professor and former dean of the Hebrew University School of Social Work and another of the editors, said the document exemplifies what he believes social work scholars are meant to do — to directly participate in the field and not only study it from afar.

“We expect social work academics to not only be good researchers and teachers but to contribute to social change,” he said. “Our faculty members in all the different fields were involved in one way or another in the issues of the war. So we thought, ‘People have learned things, they have gained knowledge, so they can contribute to making the system work better,’” he said.

Galili said the report was written, submitted and accepted by the ministry quickly in large part because the foundation had already been through the process once, when it submitted its strategic road map — ”The Right to Good Welfare” — two years ago. “It was a very quick process because all the heavy lifting was already done,” she said. 

In July 2022, the Menomadin Foundation presented Israel’s then-Welfare Minister Meir Cohen with “The Right to Good Welfare,” a 392-page strategic road map for reforming and upgrading the country’s welfare system. Though the ministry formally accepted the extensive guide, little could be done with it as just a few weeks prior the government had collapsed, essentially freezing all ministerial policies and budgets until after the elections when a new coalition could be formed.

Galili said the foundation was initially concerned that the incoming minister would throw out plan that his predecessor had accepted, but instead found that Margi had embraced it and started implementing some of its recommendations once he entered the office, and not the low-hanging fruit.

“They didn’t choose the easy tactical things,” Galili said. “I felt there was a genuine, professional desire to make change, and they didn’t just choose the easy path.”

Receiving the “Welfare following war” report, Margi said he felt “like a satisfied returning customer” and planned to both restart the efforts to improve the welfare system in general and to implement the recommendations from the new report.

“We have the budget. We are committed to establishing a joint professional team to resume work that was halted due to the war,” Margi said. “Together, we will implement the new plan for the benefit of Israeli citizens.”

In addition to presenting the report to the Welfare Ministry, Almog-Bar said the researchers and Menomadin Foundation have been sharing it with other organizations, government bodies and practitioners. “We hope that at least some of the recommendations will be adopted,” she said. 

Last month, when the government passed its updated budget for 2024, the Welfare Ministry received an additional NIS 700 million ($188 million), a notable increase but less than half than it had requested and it also includes a number of cuts to certain programs.

However, according to Gal, the budget is only part of the story. Much of that funding is allocated toward the salaries of additional municipal social workers, yet the ministry is struggling to fill those positions. “There are currently 900 to 1,000 empty positions,” he said.

This is not due to a shortage of qualified social workers in Israel but because of the conditions of these positions, according to Gal, specifically that most of them are on only on a temporary basis and give the social workers too many clients. Gal noted that this is something of a vicious cycle — because of the shortage of social workers, the remaining ones have a far larger workload, making the positions less attractive, further contributing to the shortage. “Of course, if you fill all of the positions, then the number of clients goes down,” Gal said.

So Gal said he and the others involved in the project are hoping to convince the ministry to focus on improving these work conditions.

“We hope to see that most [of the positions] become permanent and not temporary, and that the ministry puts more funds into convincing social workers — and there are plenty out there — to fill these positions,” he said.

Gal added that while the report focuses primarily on the role that government plays in the welfare system, there are also areas where philanthropy can step in.

For instance, while the government has created the Tekuma Authority, a dedicated body to overseeing and funding the reconstruction of southern Israel, no such authority has been created to assist the communities of northern Israel that have been under regular rocket and missile fire by Hezbollah in Lebanon since Oct. 7.

“Philanthropy can play a role in looking at those areas and pushing pilot programs where the government is not going to do it,” Gal said. “They can put money into a project and show that it can work, then get the government to learn from it and provide those services in the future.”