What do you do with a large population with many social problems, whose Hebrew language skills are lacking, and are unaware of the many civil society organizations that can help them?
Well, if you're Evgeny Zadiran, SHATIL's spokesperson to Russian media, you come up with an innovative idea: a hotline in Russian, staffed by representatives of civil society organizations. You get the organizations excited about the idea, convince the editor of Info Negev, a popular, free Russian language newspaper to take it on as a project, arrange for a desk and a phone in the SHATIL Be'er Sheva office, and offer your translation services.
Thus, the Hotline for Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) was launched Sunday, April 6, when Haim Bar-Yaakov, head of haLev, the Movement for Life with Dignity manned the phone line together with Zadiran. The chair of a different social change organization will staff the hotline (08-623-7619) every Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. Every Wednesday, Info Negev will publish an article about the previous week's problems and solutions and will announce which organizations will be on call the following week.
"People called and cried," Zadiran reported at the end of the Hotline's first day. "They said, 'You're our last hope.' A retired woman called, saying she was desperate. She had taken out a mortgage 10 years ago when she was working. Then she became disabled and wasn't able to make her mortgage payments. She piled up a debt of tens of thousands of shekels. She asked the bank to let her pay off her debt in smaller payments, but they refused. After receiving a warning, the woman got an eviction notice."
"We told her she could turn to an inter-ministerial committee and ask to divide the payments," Zadiran continued. "Once she does this, all processes are frozen and the committee usually answers in the affirmative, sometimes even lowering the mortgage. No one is evicted. She didn't know this and neither do most immigrants, many of whom also have mortgage problems. The lawyers don't tell them. The banks don't tell them. When this woman consulted a private lawyer, he said he would write a letter for her for a fee of NIS 4,000. But she doesn't need that. Through an article about the Hotline in the Russian press, we found a volunteer who will help her write the letter."
"The Russian immigrant population in Israel is a bit cut off from Israeli society and especially from civil society organizations. They have no idea where to turn when they have a problem," continued Zadiran.
Now they do.
The Hotline also refers callers to organizations like Community Advocacy and Yedid, when appropriate.
Fifty people took advantage of the hotline on the first Sunday and continued to call and drop into the SHATIL Be'er Sheva office during the week. This past Sunday, Maslan, an organization that fights violence against women, staffed the phones and next week, the Association for Successful Integration will answer the phones.