Israel's survivors need us now

By Matthew Gould, May 20, 2011
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M y grandfather did not talk much about what happened to his family when the Nazis occupied Warsaw, but we knew there were 10 Goldkorn brothers and sisters before the War, and only three afterwards. He never stopped grieving for those who were killed, for their families and their children.

The Holocaust sits like a shadow on my family's story. Before we went to Israel, Celia and I visited Auschwitz. All the facts, the photos and the history of the Holocaust seemed to be compressed into that one place. And then, just before our arrival in Israel, we read about a Holocaust survivor sleeping rough there. It was incomprehensible. We resolved to do something to help survivors in Israel.

When we arrived, we talked to everyone - social welfare minister, Isaac Herzog; the organisations set up to help survivors, and the survivors themselves. The message we heard was that the biggest problem survivors in Israel faced was loneliness. Through the Israeli government and the Claims Conference, their accommodation and medical needs were supposed to be met but too many had almost no human contact. Friends and families had gone; hundreds were house-bound in wheelchairs.

It is a tragedy when we let anybody grow old alone. When that person carries the weight of memory that survivors carry, the tragedy is doubled.

If we don't set up the centres soon, there will be nobody left

So we came up with a plan. We would team up with the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. If we could raise £2m, we could set up a network of eight social centres around Israel. We could expand eight existing centres; 1,500 survivors who currently cannot enjoy these facilities would be able to go to them and socialise with others. The centres would help ensure these survivors received the care and services to which they were entitled. The money would pay for transport for survivors, including for those in wheelchairs --- and it would be enough to keep the centres going for five years.

With the blessing of Alistair Burt, the Minister for the Middle East, I decided to make this an appeal to the UK Jewish community for this was a cause that British Jews would understand and support. Ron Prosor immediately agreed to make the appeal jointly with me, and has been a staunch friend and ally throughout. And then all the institutions of British Jewry agreed to help - the Chief Rabbi, the Board, the JC, the United Synagogue, Reform Movement, Liberal Movement, the Assembly of Masorti synagogues, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Congregation, the Holocaust Education Trust, the Forum for Yom HaShoah, the '45 Aid Society, and many others.

UJIA agreed to help us get the money to Israel. We agreed with Jewish Care that (as the appeal was in the UK) one tenth of the money would go to them for British survivors.

We launched the appeal formally on Yom HaShoah. With the support of a number of generous organisations and individuals, we have already got half way - we have raised a million. I hope now that Jewish communities across the country - and across the religious spectrum --- will launch their own appeals, and help us raise the second million that we need. If every shul, every youth group, every business breakfast, can raise something, we can get there. And it will have been an effort by the entire British community, for a group of people who need our help, whose continuing suffering imposes a particular obligation on us, in Israel.

Israel is no longer a poor country. Its economy is impressively strong, and it has an amazing hi-tech sector. I spend much of my time trying to build links between British and Israeli tech companies. So do British Jews really need to help?

Yes, and urgently. Because - as in almost every developed country - those, like the survivors, who most need help in Israel are falling between the cracks. If we do not help, no one will. These clubs will not be set up, the survivors we could have helped will remain lonely and housebound, and before we know it we will have missed our chance to help - there will be no survivors left.

I feel passionately that we have a duty to make sure that we cherish the survivors who are still with us and ensure they have the comfort, dignity and care that they deserve. This is my personal appeal to the community.

Matthew Gould is British Ambassador to Israel. The appeal website is at: www.holocaustsurvivorsappeal.org

    Last updated: 12:47pm, May 20 2011