The Numbers Game


Every year, the day after the Passover Seder, the traditional exodus of the people of Israel begins. Hundreds of thousands take to the skies for a trip abroad, thousands more picnic in nature reserves, parks and forests. The reason is clear, Israel is on holiday. Government and public offices close down, which means that the majority of the workers – the group with the insured income can go on holiday.The other 40% will also have to shorten their business week, and even though those days will be taken out of their salary – they are on holiday. The interesting thing every year are the numbers. 150,000 people visited the National Parks on the day after the Seder, announced the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, 170,000 visited Jewish National Fund parks and forests, we were told by the JNF spokesperson. How are these figures computed is an enigma. The INPA claims that 45,000 visited the 51 entrance charging parks, which is a figure probably based on the number of people who paid for admission, the other 105,000 the INPA claims spend time in nature reserves and parks that don’t have an entrance fee. Who counted them and how was this done, we don’t know.

The JNF claims 170,000 in the JNF parks and forests. As the forests are free,and can be entered from many directions, how exactly did the JNF figure out these numbers.

High numbers mean high visibility, which allows for higher funding and donations. And so the numbers game is important, and usually unfounded. In the month before Passover a high profile campaign was launched to help people who couldn’t afford a Passover meal. “Every third child in Israel is hungry”, ran the ads for this campaign. How do you count hungry children, I asked someone one day, and the answer was: we deduct it from the number of families under the poverty line, and the number of children that they have.

Israel, like all the other countries of the world, doesn’t have statistics for hungry people – children or anybody else. One of the reasons being the question of what is a hungry child. Israels Central Bureau of Statistics, doesn’t even have figures of how many children do families under the poverty line have. But, even if you ignore these facts, being under the poverty line doesn’t mean that you are hungry.

The poverty line, is a complicated figure that reflects an income that that is at a fixed percentage under the median income (In Israel it is 50%). So if the median income goes up, lets say many more bankers get rich, the poverty line goes up, and many more people will be defined as under the poverty line – even if their income or status hasn’t changed. But “every third child in Israel is hungry,” makes for much better fund-raising, just as the 150,000 people who visited the national parks makes for higher funding, and the 170,000 who visited the JNF forests can raise a few more donations from overseas. The numbers given are always easy to remember, “every third”, “150,000” and so on, just like the 10,000 hits that we get on this blog,  every day.

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Editor in chief of the ERETZ Group publications including ERETZ Magazine, ERETZ VATEVA (Hebrew), and Metropolis Magazine (Hebrew)

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