Chief Rabbi meets Syrian refugees being aided by Jewish community on WJR scheme

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis says he is humbled by “the remarkable positivity of people who have endured such enormous upheaval"


The Chief Rabbi has travelled to Yorkshire to visit a Jewish project which supports Syrian refugees.

Rabbi Mirvis and his wife Valerie made the trip to the World Jewish Relief (WJR) operation to mark the start of Refugee Week on Monday.

The couple spent the day meeting refugees who were brought to safety by the British government and are now receiving one-to-one support from WJR as they embark on their new lives.

During the visit, the Chief Rabbi observed an English conversation class and participated in a round table discussion with Paul Anticoni, chief executive of WJR, and some of those his organisation supports. Among other things, they discussed the war in Syria, their impressions of the UK and their aspirations for the future.

WJR, the Jewish community’s international development agency, aims to assist 1,000 newly-arrived Syrian refugees to become ‘job ready’ as part of long-term integration. The programme is informed by the charity’s experience in assisting vulnerable Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

The project also works with businesses to break down barriers by highlighting what skills refugees bring.

To date, 51 refugees have taken part in the scheme which launched last year. Of those 22 have been deemed ‘job ready’ and 11 have found employment in fields such as civil engineering, dentistry and retail.

The Chief Rabbi said: “It is humbling to listen to the remarkable positivity of people who have endured such enormous upheaval, and yet refuse to allow this to define their future. I am tremendously proud of the generosity of our community, which is helping the refugees to meet their needs so impressively.

“The response of World Jewish Relief to the refugee crisis, a major challenge of our time, has been exemplary.”

He also blessed the refugees, wishing them success in all their endeavours and in ultimately being reunited with their families.

One of the refugees thanked the Chief Rabbi for listening and expressed appreciation for the Jewish community’s support. Another told him that all Syrians have at least one relative who has died during the conflict or been tortured in prison.

WJR’s president Henry Grunwald, who accompanied the Mirvises, told the group that he is the son of refugees and so knows how difficult it is to build a new life.

He said: “World Jewish Relief was formed in 1933 to help people flee Nazi Germany, including through the Kindertransport, and enable them to develop lives and livelihoods in Britain. This programme is inspired by our origins, reflecting the Jewish values of welcoming the stranger into our home and enabling people to support themselves.”

The project is being funded by WJR through a number of generous private individuals and foundations.

Paul Anticoni, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The gap in provision for employment services for refugees, combined with our extensive experience in livelihood development, means that we hope to make a significant contribution to their experience of settling in the UK, following the war and persecution that so many faced in Syria.

“We’d like to thank the Chief Rabbi for spending a day with us to meet with refugees and see our programme in action.”

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