Stars come out for World Jewish Relief as 90th anniversary dinner raises £1.8 million

Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel, Sir Nicholas Hytner and Sir Simon Schama involved as aid charity reflects on an impressive history and its current work in the UK, Ukraine and elsewhere


World Jewish Relief attracted a stellar crowd to its 90th anniversary dinner at the Roundhouse in Camden on Tuesday, which raised £1.8 million.

Theatre and film director Sir Nicholas Hytner produced the event. Broadcasters and friends of the charity Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel shared the hosting duties and the 740 guests included the Chief Rabbi, the Israeli and German ambassadors, David Baddiel and actor Elliot Levey.

Also present were survivors the organisation helped rescue and bring to the UK in the 1930s and 40s under its original name of the Central British Fund and people helped to flee more recent conflicts.

A documentary film presented by Sir Simon Schama spanned WJR’s nine decades of relief work and there were also videos focusing on a farmer in Nepal and an Afghan refugee in the UK supported by the charity.

Another film showed frontline humanitarian worker Oleksiy Tolkachov delivering the first aid consignments from WJR into Ukrainian areas liberated from the Russians, albeit completely destroyed. Mr Tolkachov, who attended the dinner, said that alone he could do nothing. But with the backing of the British Jewish community, his team could save lives.

And Sabina Artemieva, a Ukrainian refugee now working for WJR, said: “Relief came to me with World Jewish Relief.”

The crisis in Ukraine prompted WJR’s biggest relief operation since the Nazi era, with around 188,000 people helped.

In his address, charity chair Maurice Helfgott highlighted the speed and quality of WJR’s response to the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

He said that having been founded to rescue “thousands of our fellow Jews in Europe, ever since, we’ve been driven by the same Jewish imperative to save lives and change lives.

“We all want to respond to the devastating human suffering caused by war and catastrophe. World Jewish Relief is simply the vehicle built to translate our collective desire into timely, practical impact.

“In just the last 12 months, we’ve responded immediately and effectively to cataclysmic humanitarian emergencies in Ukraine and its neighbours, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ethiopia and Colombia.

“And we’ve delivered a large-scale refugee assistance programme in 23 cities here in the UK, teaching English and helping refugees make their own living.”

Another speaker was Sir Clive Alderton, private secretary to King Charles, who read a message from the King, WJR’s patron. It relayed “warmest best wishes and immense gratitude for all the critically important work that you are doing” and praised “the tremendous example set by World Jewish Relief over the last 90 years” for both the Jewish and wider community.

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