Support efforts ramped up for vulnerable

Synagogues, welfare and mental health groups expanding their assistance


Sorry we're closed sign at shop entrance in London - Closed cafe due to coronavirus pandemic - background image about closed shops and restaurants in the city

Charities and synagogues are ramping up their support for community members who have been adversely affected by the latest lockdown.

Although the government has allowed places of worship to remain open in England, a further half-dozen United Synagogue congregations — among them Pinner, Barnet and Chigwell — have this week decided to cease physical services. Around 70 per cent of US shuls are now closed, with the emphasis returning to online provision.

While US chief executive Steven Wilson pledged to continue supporting synagogues which remained open — and promising “further measures to keep our communities safe”— he stressed that “nobody should feel pressured into attending a minyan”.

The US is also setting up a dedicated coronavirus helpline ( to be run by staff and volunteers and offering “practical advice or a friendly ear for those simply struggling to cope”.

Its Chesed department head, Michelle Minsky, said that “having to adjust to home schooling, juggling work and family commitments and worrying about job security or finding work is piling on pressure at an already difficult time. Nobody should be afraid to ask for help.”

The Federation of Synagogues reported that some of its shuls were still open, with a marquee at Nishmas Yisroel in Hendon “to create extra space and allow greater social distancing”.

Other groupings said their buildings were now all shut, including Masorti and Liberal Judaism, where chief executive Rabbi Charley Baginsky said: “These are very difficult times for so many and it’s our goal to help people through them.

“The difference with this lockdown is that all our online services are now established and very popular so people know exactly how and where to find them. We already have our 2021 biennial weekend planned as a huge online event.

“We are also making great efforts to support not only the mental health of our communities and members but also our clergy and lay leaders. We are working collectively to support each other and share resources in order to decrease the huge burden these lockdowns can have on individuals.”

Communal mental health charity Jami has experienced a continual growth in referrals during the pandemic and expects this to continue.

A spokesperson highlighted a “noticeable number of people whose primary concern surrounds their physical health needs, such as having cancer or diabetes. The impact of the pandemic with the requirement for shielding and the lack of treatment/hospital interventions has had a secondary impact on their mental health.”

The age profile of those seeking assistance was also changing. “In June/July, we saw the most referrals coming from those aged 26-45. However, latterly, the biggest increase in referrals is from people aged 76 and above.

“One of the most significant areas of increased referrals is from carers, with more family members inquiring about services for their loved ones with mental health issues.”

At Manchester’s major welfare charity, The Fed, Raphi Bloom said demand for its services had surged by 58 per cent since March — and as the community’s safety net, “we expect our workload to increase exponentially over the coming months.

“We support one-in-eight Jewish homes across Greater Manchester, which is a staggering statistic. Since the pandemic started, we have delivered over 20,000 hours of volunteering — shopping and telephone support to those most vulnerable and in need in our community.”

These include 1,000 people with mental health issues, 28 Holocaust survivors, many with poor mental health and physical illness, and 33 domestic abuse victims. The charity has also delivered more than 1,200 “support packages”.

Meanwhile, the city’s Jewish representative council president, Russell Conn, said it was “crucial” to make leaders of shuls which remained open aware of “how much more virulent” the new and more easily transmissible new virus strain is. “The colder weather means that shuls are probably not as well ventilated as they were in the summer and autumn, when they first reopened.”

Contact was being made with all synagogues, including the strictly Orthodox, to urge those in charge to update their protocols. The rep council would assist shuls which wished to remain open in an effort to prevent services “going underground. We are aware we a walking a virtual tightrope.”

Employment charity Work Avenue, which has helped more than 300 people secure work in the past year, has seen demand for its services rise further since the new lockdown was announced. Its range of skills workshops are fully booked for the next month.

Chief executive Debbie Sheldon said: “Throughout this crisis, we have supported more people than ever to find jobs, set up and adapt a business and learn new skills. This number is only increasing as the calls to our office in the last few days have shown. This is a tough time for so many in our community but the good news is that support — and jobs — are out there.”

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