Workforce from five continents shares an ethos of care


Francisco Herrera has a passion for Jewish food. At home he cooks latkes, salt beef and cholent for his family. He studies kosher recipe books and reads copiously about Jewish culinary tradition.

But his passion does not derive from his cultural or religious background - he is not Jewish - but from his job.

Mr Herrera is a chef at Jewish Care, in charge of developing menus for Anglo-Jewry's biggest welfare organisation.

He is from Colombia - one of the 71 nationalities in Jewish Care's 1,500-strong workforce, 90 per cent of whom are non-Jewish. "I came to London for what was supposed to be three months and I've been here 12 years working my way up through the kitchen. The longer I stayed the more interested I became in Jewish food, life, and culture.

"I read a lot of books and started to create my own Jewish menus. One of my passions is bringing back the tradition to Jewish cooking."

Staff numbers

71 nationalities, from
5 continents
1,500 employees
90% less than 10 per cent of Jewish Care’s employees are Jewish
7,000 clients

Diane Blausten, Jewish Care's head of human resources, and herself a Methodist, says the diversity among the employees is a real asset, but other qualities take precedence when it comes to hiring. She says: "We recruit all of our front-line staff based on their ability to show compassion and care, respect and dignity.

"Our workforce covers all five continents and, interestingly, most come from one of the three Abramic faiths, and they are religions that share the same core values."

Filipino care worker Myrtle Pangindian, 55, has worked at Jewish Care's Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus, in Golders Green, north-west London, for two years.

She cares for some of the organisation's 7,000 clients. She says: "I believe in a different God from Jews, but it is no barrier to me working here. The understanding I have about religion helps me to understand how Jews believe.

Ms Pangindian says she knew very little about the Jewish faith and culture before she worked for the organisation."

"One of my first Jewish Care clients was a lady who was Orthodox and it was scary not knowing what to do or not to do.

"I had a lady who had a tattoo on her arm and I asked her why she had it. She told me it was her number from when she was in a concentration camp. I said sorry for asking.

"She said 'no, it is fine to ask it. It means you are learning'."

Behind the scenes at Jewish Care there is just as much diversity. Ross Mullenger, 65, from Barnet, who is head of IT, was born and raised in New Zealand. He says: "I come from the bottom of the south island of New Zealand where fewer than 100,000 people live.

"I knew very little about Jewish culture. I learn a lot from the staff and I'm aware this time of year of the number of holidays we have. I've been given honey cake too which is really nice."

He says: "Last year the Indian ladies in the office had a lunch to celebrate Diwali which you could say was even odder in a Jewish organisation.

"In the jobs that I've had before the greatest respect is for the profit you're making. But the feeling of warmth you have here is so much different.

"The values and ethos are so strong they are embedded and reflective of the values of the Jewish culture."

Padraic Garrett is a service manager in the organisation's disability and dementia team, and he grew up on the west coast of Ireland and is a former Catholic priest.

He says: "After I was ordained I worked in South Africa in a rural community between 1988 and 1994. "I lived in a black village when it was against the law for a white person to do so and I voted in the country's first free election. It was during that time I decided I wanted to leave the priesthood and come to London.

"My first job was as an auxiliary nurse and then I came to Jewish Care.

He says: "Like many of the staff, I enjoy working with an organisation that has a certain set of values. I connect to Jewish values; there is a hard work ethic, high level of standards, a sense of community."

Elizabeth Mandeya, 56, originally from Zimbabwe and now living in Welwyn Garden City, manages one of Jewish Care's homes.

She says: "I came to London in 2001 and I knew a little bit about the Jewish faith because I am a Seventh-Day Adventist so I keep the Sabbath.

"In Zimbabwe I used to buy my meat from the kosher butcher so immediately I thought, 'oh yes we have something in common'.

"I subscribe to the Jewish values of caring and giving and in many ways I've been brought up the same.

"Part of my job is going round to talk to people before they come to the home and I tell them about the activities they can participate in. They are often surprised that I know so much and say I'm more Jewish than they are."

Fewer than 10 per cent of the staff are Jewish and the organisation also has a significantly lower than average staff turnover. Non-Jewish staff like Mr Herrera have stayed and worked their way up through the ranks.

He says: "I would never have expected that I would become an expert in Jewish food. But the best part of the job is getting all the feedback from the residents.

"One resident was a very poor eater so I tried to encourage him by making him a special soup. "He told me it reminded him of his mother. He said 'this is how my mum made soup when I was little'. For me, that was just wow."

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