Gov’t reallocates funds from mental health org. to haredi groups

Science and Health

ERAN (Emotional First AID) on Monday said the Health Ministry has cut its 2023 budget from NIS 1.7 million to NIS 1.6m., even though it is receiving many more calls than in previous years. The nonprofit organization said it received 130,000 calls from January through June.

Asked to comment, a Health Ministry representative said: “The ministry doesn’t support nonprofit organizations but rather activities that provide psychological first aid. The amount of support provided by the ministry to the subject, minus the COVID-19 supplements, remains unchanged. Over the years, additional associations dealing in the field have been added, and the total amount is divided among them according to the established standards for this purpose.”

The ministry did not provide the names of the other organizations or other details when asked.

The ministry is using the NIS 100,000 deducted from ERAN’s budget to allocate to 10 small haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups that claim to provide emotional help, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Unlike sectoral groups, ERAN listens to and advises anyone in Israel who calls for help.

The Health Ministry is headed by Health Minister Moshe Arbel of Shas.

Depression (illustrative) (credit: ING IMAGE)

The ministry’s budget for ERAN was NIS 1.7m. in the year before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused panic and loneliness due to isolation. During the pandemic, the voluntary organization’s budget was raised to NIS 5.9m., but now it has been drastically reduced to less than it was before that.

ERAN said it is having a hard time finding donors to help cover its NIS 12m. budget.

Supporters of the organization, which aims at preventing suicide, providing emotional support, and reducing loneliness among callers from around the country, cited the government budgeting of NIS 14 billion to haredi institutions and schools as the main reason its budget, along with many other social services, has been cut.

The important work of ERAN

ERAN said it does not get funded according to the number of calls for help it receives and the number of individuals it helps. It received 204,000 pleas for help in 2019 and more than 300,000 in 2022. It is now receiving 900 appeals for help on an average day.

Founded in 1971, ERAN has hundreds of volunteers who are trained and backed up by professionals. Volunteers can work from any of 19 branches or from their homes. The organization said it is now short 400 volunteers but lacks the budget to train them.

Its phone number is 1201 at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, or via its website.

The chaos caused by conflicts over the coalition’s judicial overhaul has not only hurt the economy, solidarity, and order, and encouraged Israel’s enemies, it has caused sleeplessness and emotional anguish among ordinary citizens, ERAN reported last June.

ERAN CEO David Koren said at the time: “As a voluntary organization that provides psychological assistance to everyone all year round, we continue [our work] during this period, when distress is increasing… Our volunteers face a complex mental challenge themselves, and at the same time, they help those who turn to us. In fact, these days we hear many voices calling for dialogue and hope for calm.”

The threads that have woven Israeli society over the years are slowly being unraveled and rifts are being created between groups and individuals, he said, adding: “This feeling undermines and harms mental well-being in a way that requires rehabilitation and recovery, healing of the damaged trust. The feeling of rejection that people experience these days, along with the loneliness and alienation and the loss of the most basic sense of acceptance and appreciation, undermine everything we have known and given us security and lead to real existential anxiety,” Koren said.