Last month it was revealed in a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs that despite the fact that a third of all suicides in Israel over the past decade were committed by immigrants (one fourth of which by immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel since 1990; and 3%-8% by immigrants from Ethiopia who arrived in Israel since 1980), the Russian hotline operated by the ERAN emotional first aid service, with financial support from the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, was closed for almost a decade. It is now available again.
Committee members who toured ERAN’s hotline centers in central Israel recently have learned that out of the 180,000 calls the hotline centers field each year — an average of more than 450 calls a day — some 10% are from new immigrants.
“It is absurd that such a crucial service does not receive sufficient funding from the state,” Committee Chairman Avraham Naguisa (Likud) said during the visit. “Beyond the emotional distress shared by the general population, immigrants face additional, unique emotional pain related to loneliness, difficulties in making a living, and yearning.”
Naguisa will soon convene a joint meeting of officials from the Finance, Health, and Absorption ministries to ensure that funds are allocated to the training of emotional first aid service volunteers who speak foreign languages, as well as for advertising the service to the designated segments of the population.
ERAN Executive Director David Koren told committee members that the organization’s annual budget is $2.5 million, with only one million coming from the state, the rest from private donors. According to Koren, the small budget does not allow the organization to train additional volunteers, including volunteers who speak Russian, French and Amharic. Some 1,200 volunteers currently man the hotlines, but the organization needs some 500 more in order to provide the service to all callers.
Dr. Shiri Daniels, ERAN’s national professional director, told committee members that each year the organization receives some 4,000 calls from people who talk about suicide, and 700-800 of these calls end with the volunteer contacting rescue and welfare units to prevent the caller from committing suicide. The callers, she said, discuss a wide range of issues, including problems with their partners and children, loneliness, personal crises, financial difficulties, emotional distress, and getting fired from work.
Mira Keidar, the Jewish Agency’s director of social services, expressed hope that, with the help the Health Ministry’s National Suicide Prevention Council, additional funds would be raised for the service, which is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “A country such as Israel, which absorbs immigrants, must also invest in emotional absorption, which can be the key to the stability of the home and family,” she said.
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp) charged that “providing emotional assistance to immigrants is not even on the government ministries’ agenda.”
Social worker Benny Heller, a Russian-speaking volunteer at ERAN, said some people call the hotline more than once because they view the volunteers as the only people with whom they can discuss their emotional problems.
The ERAN emotional hotline numbers are:
Hotline for Holocaust Survivors & families 1-800-24-1201
Hotline for Soldiers & families *2201
Internet Hotlines go to the Hebrew website www.eran.org.il
Hotline for the Elderly *3201
Russian Language Hotline 1-800-24-1201 ext. 3
Arabic Language Hotline 1-800-24-1201 ext. 2 (12:00 – 20:00)