World Jewish Relief chief executive Paul Anticoni had good reason to be absent from its dinner at London’s Guildhall on Monday which raised £1.5 million.
To give the 550 supporters a first-hand glimpse of the charity’s work, Mr Anticoni was in Ukraine for a video link-up to a key WJR project — a new community centre providing a lifeline for the 12,000 Jews in Krivoy Rog, a ravaged mining town 200 miles from the capital Kiev.
On an average day 150 people use the centre and younger members were shown dancing late into the evening. Mr Anticoni was also filmed on a home visit to a family helped by WJR. Sitting with grandson Sergei Yakobchuk, Shifra Galdakova said that although her pension was just £2 a day, she and her family survived “because WJR is helping me. Thank you so much.”
Another video link was to Moldova, where WJR representative Zoe Cole spoke in Kishinev with Olga Gaburich and Irina Tomchack, two of the women who have benefited from the charity’s vocational training. They expressed gratitude “for the knowledge, skills and confidence” the programme had given them. There was also a long distance conversation between dinner compere James Max and Ruth Feigenbaum, a volunteer within the Zimbabwe community.
Back in London, Oksana Galkev-ich, director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee office in Kharkov, Ukraine, gave a moving account of the harrowing living conditions of some community members. Close to tears, she said: “I think something is wrong with our society if we still have hungry children in the 21st century.”
Noting that WJR assisted “165,000 of the neediest Jews in the world”, chairman Nigel Layton said that “the challenging times in which we all live are felt most acutely in the countries where we work”. Clients “desperately need our help and they need it now”.
To maximise the money available for its services, every effort had been made to reduce the costs of staging the dinner. As an example, the decision not to produce an appeal video had enabled the provision of an extra 2,618 meals to hungry Jews and 2,222 additional hours of personal homecare.
Using a footballing analogy, Mr Layton said the appointment of Henry Grunwald as WJR’s first president had given a Champions League outfit a Champions League leader.