Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis was the headline act for World Jewish Relief on Monday at a Guildhall dinner which raised £1.5 million.
Ms Maitlis — a keen supporter of WJR and a member of the dinner committee — took the 580 guests through “75 years of an extraordinary organisation.
“You may think you know World Jewish Relief today and the crucial work it does providing soup kitchens, day-care centres and medical attention, to name just a few projects, to Jews in need all around the world.” But the charity had also played “a central role in some of the most turbulent chapters in world history.”
Under its former title of the Central British Fund, it had raised over £250,000 — the equivalent of £10 million today — to bring child refugees from Nazism to Britain on the Kindertransport. “It remains an extraordinary achievement, saving thousands of lives,” she pointed out.
“In recent years, World Jewish Relief has extended its support to victims of major international disasters, a response grounded in tikkun olam, the Jewish value of helping those in need.” After the 2004 tsunami in South-East Asia, WJR had raised £2.6 million from British Jewry towards relief efforts.
In response to the conflict in Georgia this year, WJR dispatched emergency aid to displaced members of the 12,000-strong Jewish community.
Ms Maitlis also introduced beneficiaries of the charity’s work including Professor Leslie Brent, who was on the first Kindertransport, and concentration camp survivor Ben Helfgott. Another speaker was Gustavo Murmis, who had flown in from Buenos Aires to explain how WJR had helped him during Argentina’s economic collapse in 2001, which forced 39,000 middle class Jews to register on welfare lists.
WJR chairman Nigel Layton expressed delight that the dinner proceeds matched last year’s total.
“This year we have cut costs to the bone and will continue to do so. But as far as we can, we will do everything to ensure that our support programmes won’t suffer. Tonight, the money saved by cutting out the flowers and being modest in our hall decorations has enabled us to fund an extra 2,466 meals-on-wheels for our neediest clients,” declared Mr Layton.