WJR pledges to improve lives of those in 'chronic poverty'


World Jewish Relief's work down the generations was reviewed at its annual dinner at London's Guildhall which raised more than £1 million.

And, after the 500-plus diners had heard from Polish-born Harry Olmer, one of "The Boys" rescued by WJR and helped to settle in Britain after the war, chief executive Paul Anticoni stressed that the largest number of survivors and older Jewish community members still requiring support were in the former Soviet Union.

"They are all over the age of 70, and with such a tragic past now face an unimaginably precarious future. My commitment last year to assist 50,000 older Jewish people to live out their autumn years with dignity over the next five years remains." More than 31,000 had now received medical support and home care. "We've repaired their houses or simply brought them to our Jewish community centres to make them feel valued, loved and looked after."

Mr Anticoni highlighted the plight of "the vast number of ageing, lonely individuals and younger, poorly skilled and unemployable families increasingly living in chronic poverty. I cannot emphasise enough how the future of these communities remains on the brink. Yet we also realise that old fashioned charitable handouts are not the answer. With the right tools and the right assistance, they must help themselves.

"Supporters keep asking me that if life is so horrific in the former Soviet Union, why don't our clients simply move to Israel? They could, of course. But they don't and they won't. Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus - it's their home. It's where their parents and grandparents are buried, where they want to spend their futures. Helping these Jewish communities earn a living and look after their elderly - it's our challah and butter. That's where your support tonight is going."

I cannot emphasise enough how the future of these communities remains on the brink Paul Anticoni

Figures displayed in the appeal video showed that WJR had helped 1,434 vulnerable Jews back into work over the past year. The charity will spend more than £1 million this year helping 15,589 people to emerge from poverty.

Although small by comparison to its commitment in Eastern Europe, WJR's response to disasters affecting the wider community in countries such as Nepal and Sierra Leone - and the refugee crisis in Turkey and Greece - were equally challenging. "We do this in the name of British Jewry, showing the world that we care, that we act with great expertise. This work saves lives and it wins us many friends. It takes nothing away from our traditional activities."

Other speakers included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis - who visited one of Greece's largest refugee camps to witness WJR's "outstanding" work - and BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane, who said he remained an incurable optimist despite spending much of his time in conflict zones.

The evening was hosted by Keane's fellow BBC journalist Emily Maitlis, who joined a recent mission to Sarajevo with WJR's Connections committee. She had met "young people who have been given real opportunities to build a career and a life for themselves".

In a video message, David Cameron thanked the charity for bringing care and compassion to some of the world's most vulnerable people. Its work, he said, epitomised the best of Britain.

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