My parents were refugees to England from Nazi Germany and they instilled in me an enormous sense of gratitude for the freedom and opportunity that we were given by the British government. They also taught me the fundamental values of the Jewish religion and culture – helping those less fortunate than myself, the importance of family life and the continuation of Jewish traditions.
I am a practising Jew and my faith is pivotal in all that I do however, my voluntary work for World Jewish Relief (WJR) is how I feel I best express my Judaism. I am fortunate enough to have the time to work with WJR the charity is the perfect fit for me – in all its work it maintains a value system that I have tried to teach my children. It works to revive Jewish life in places that it has been crushed, it stands up to persecution and it provides sustenance and opportunity to those in desperate need who don’t receive the help they need from their own governments.
The vast majority of WJR’s work is in rebuilding the lost Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union ravaged by the Holocaust. There are over 1.2 million Jews in the region including Holocaust survivors and those who have faced decades of hardship in the Communist era. Denied their Jewish heritage for far too long, they want desperately to re-connect with their religion and its traditions that they have been scared to express for many years. And many of these people also live far below the poverty line struggling daily to feed their children. In Ukraine alone, over 100,000 Jewish people face just this anguish. Lives deprived of even the simple necessities of nutritious food, heating, running water or clothing for the harsh winter months with medical support almost non-existent. As a daughter and mother, I cannot bear to imagine my family living in these conditions and I am therefore driven daily to better the lives of the Jewish community around the world, in any small way I can.
I remember a visit we made to a young boy of 14, Vitaliy, in his “home” in Ukraine where he lives with his grandmother and in the winter, also with his mother. During the summer months his mother travels hundreds of miles north to earn much-needed money for her family planting potatoes. Vitaliy’s father died two weeks before our visit and they live in what can only be described as a hovel. They have two rooms in appalling condition. Chickens run in and out and there was even one dying on the floor inside. Yet Vitaliy goes to school, he is bright, cheerful and confident. He wants to be a journalist. It’s the individuals who I am lucky enough to meet who really inspire me to do more. They are often in horrendous situations but still remain positive, grateful and hopeful… and they are proud to be Jewish.
Another fundamental value of the Jewish faith is called ‘tikkun olam’ – healing the world. WJR is also responsible for channelling the UK Jewish community’s response to disasters affecting the international community regardless of race, religion or nationality. Most recently we are working hard to support projects in Darfur where a humanitarian crisis beyond comprehension continues.
For me volunteering is one of the most fulfilling parts of my life and the opportunities to work with WJR are endless.
Take it from me, the rewards are immeasurable.
For more information about WJR and its work and to see how you can get involved log on to www.worldjewishrelief.org.uk