Charities meet the calls for cash and emotional support


Welfare charities are experiencing an upsurge in demand before Pesach as observant clients seek help with meeting the high cost of festival food and drink. But charity chiefs are also reporting increasing calls for emotional support.

Mark Cunningham, chief operating officer of Manchester's main welfare charity, The Fed, describes the festival as "a bit of an emotional watershed. It is traditionally a time of family, a time of reflection and celebration. If you are in a situation where you don't have the support that other people do - you're on your own, or unwell, or your family live far away - it can magnify that you are struggling. People think: 'I have to confront these issues happening in my life'".

In a normal month, The Fed will receive around 200 calls, but the number jumps by around 50 per cent in the weeks before and post-Pesach.

"I am not Jewish but a similar scenario in the wider community is Christmas. Organisations like the Samaritans get more referrals at that time."

To help those on their own,The Fed organises a communal first night Seder and is this year anticipating up to 100 guests.

Merseyside Jewish Community Care chief executive, Lisa Dolan, also reports a rise in calls at Pesach. "There is always a little bit of a flurry," she says." It creates an extra 10 per cent of calls. It is a focal point.

"It is a time when we think back to childhood, and of our parents. If you have lost someone recently, it brings up thoughts and emotions. Every Yomtov is a bit like that, but Pesach is the key one."

The MJCC's communal Seder attracts around 50 people and this year the charity will be sending out 70 Pesach parcels to community members who otherwise would not be able to afford their festival shop.

Leeds Jewish Welfare Board holds communal Seders and gives out vouchers for the local food bank, which receives donations of Pesach food.

In London, Jewish Care chief executive, Simon Morris, reports that the Jewish Care Direct helpline "sees an increase in calls from isolated and lonely people" at festival periods. "For older members of our community, Pesach is often a difficult time when they remember their losses and struggle to prepare and celebrate alone.

"We respond by providing a range of services including advice and support, communal Seders, offering 'take-home' kosher-for-Passover food through our resources and providing kosher-for-Passover shops in our day centres."

The United Synagogue's welfare branch, Chesed, runs a Pesach appeal. Chesed chief, Michelle Minsky, reflects that "many in the community think it must be really awful if you cannot afford to make Pesach. It is something that touches people.

"Everyone has their own level of Orthodoxy but it is a big bill at one time. Chesed provides financial assistance. We don't want people to not be able to participate in Pesach because they don't have enough money."

Chesed's shul community care co-ordinators find out who needs help and the organisation then supplies food parcels and vouchers. It will this year help around 600 households with 300 food parcels and 300 food vouchers for Pesach.

Numerous requests were received from the elderly, for example in Hackney, with many of the beneficiaries aged 90 or more.

The Gift charity provides food parcels to up to 2,000 people weekly and will be distributing 1,700 Pesach food packs including matzah, wine, oil, ground almonds, jam, chicken-soup mix, cheese, tuna, candles, cakes and biscuits. Gift founder and director Michelle Barnett says most referrals come from organisations such as Jewish Care, Norwood and Jewish Women's Aid. "The majority of people we help are families where either one of the parents has died, has a life-threatening illness, has lost their job or is going through divorce."

At the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, welfare chair Alan Levine says 60 ex-service personnel and their families will receive between £140 and £190 towards Pesach costs.

For the Charedi community, with its large families, the cost of the festival brings additional people into the welfare net. Stamford Hill leader Rabbi Abraham Pinter explains that the festival is particularly hard on the strictly Orthodox because as well as the cost of food, there is a custom of buying new clothes. "It is the most expensive Yomtov there is," he says. "The majority of the community will need some assistance."

Employers try to help by negotiating discounts for their staff in clothing stores - and through cash support of up to £200. Welfare groups Tomchei Shabbos and the ZSV Trust make up food parcels and offer financial aid.

But Rabbi Pinter warns: "It is inevitable numbers needing help will go up because things are getting more difficult, particularly if living in London with housing costs tending to go up. It increases pressure on people."

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive