We are deeply proud of our volunteers................

By Leon A Smith
May 4, 2011

Nothing can be more emotive at the present time (other than views on the Royal Wedding) than the debate about the wisdom of the Olympic Games being held in London. There are those such as myself who are very much in favour of London hosting the Games and those who are vigorously against it – and many shades of opinion in between.

The arguments in favour are wide and varied but my own particularly strongly held view is that hosting the Games in London will contribute enormously to establishing a much greater sense of civic pride in our wonderful city than exists at the present time.

Residents of Paris, Rome, New York and other cities, harbour a huge pride in all that their city has to offer – their open spaces, their buildings, and many other exciting features. Somehow this pride does not seem to exist on a widespread scale in London – or certainly not in Balham where I live (“gateway to the south” etc etc).

It can only be hoped that once the Games are up and running in Summer 2012 that many of the people who are currently expressing negative views and feelings about the Games will with the attention of the world upon London feel some sense of pride. There is also of course the “Channel Tunnel Theory”. How many people said prior to the Tunnel being completed “….you’ll never catch me down there. It’s dangerous, etc,etc……” - only to become regular users of it no sooner had it been opened.

Links to my thoughts this week may appear to be somewhat obscure – but read on! One of the characteristics of Jewish communities in other capital cities is that they tend to be far more overt in expressing their pride of what their community has to offer. Whereas in London there is sometimes a feeling that we should be keeping our heads down and not drawing attention to ourselves and just getting on with things. This is a great shame because so many of things which are happening in the Jewish community in London are things which we should be proud of and really be shouting about. The community is vibrant, active and diverse.

One of the areas in which I believe the Jewish community is fully entitled to be proud of is in its social services provision – day centres, community support, and care for numerous groups within the community including older people. The provision of older people’s care is first class throughout the community and something which we should not hesitate in shouting about. At a time when the favoured mantra of the month is consistently “big society”, what better example could there be of the “big society” than the work which is being done and, indeed, has been done, for generations by the community by those looking after those vulnerable people in the community in need.

Notwithstanding this, we must temper any expressions of that pride so as not to give the erroneous impression that we are in any way elitist or suffering from a superiority complex in relation to those services which we proudly present. Whilst it is true that the wider community may be able to benefit from some of the experiences of the Jewish community in terms of infrastructure, it must also be recognised that we in turn must have much to learn from the wider community – ie this is a two way process.

If some Jewish provision within the community is of higher quality than the wider community, what are the reasons for this? One of them clearly is a sense of communal responsibility and Tzedakah which enables many of our charities to provide levels of services which simply would not be possible without the generosity of the community. This generosity of course is not restricted to financial support but it also relates to the generosity of volunteers in giving their time to causes in which they believe.

At Nightingale, we are DEEPLY PROUD of the enormous input made by volunteers both from within the community and from outside the community in a wide variety of ways. It is deeply encouraging to see the generous input from so many young non-Jewish volunteers who give selflessly of their time to benefit our older residents in so many ways. The input from these volunteers complements the work of our wonderful staff in ensuring that our residents are able to enjoy the highest possible quality of life. Volunteering ranges from volunteer trustees through the spectrum to those working on fundraising committees, those assisting with financial and management advice, through to those working with our residents – many of whom are living with dementia, by participating in outings, helping residents to eat, working in our shop, leading discussion groups, music sessions and so much more. We truly would be a very different home without the input of these wonderful friends.

A recent survey showed that a very large proportion of the British public show no interest in either charitable giving and/or in volunteering, yet never could the need of these twin pillars of support be greater at a time of government cuts.

We really should be VERY PROUD of our community in this respect!


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