Covid-19 plus Winter 2020: A Sobering Reality for Older Jews

Last night more than 60 people joined our virtual event, exploring the challenges facing older Jews in Eastern Europe this winter. The event illuminated the dismal combination of Covid-19, a freezing winter, and meagre state support for a generation of Jewish people across the region.

Head of Older People Programmes Beth Saffer introduced our work in Eastern Europe, and described our client group; mostly over 70, many suffering with multiple health conditions that are poorly managed through healthcare systems. Many clients’ children have emigrated, meaning they are without family support and isolated in high rise apartment blocks. State pensions in Ukraine are often as low as £65 per month, forcing older people to choose between paying utility bills, buying essential medicines, and shopping for food.

As for Covid-19, Beth painted a bleak picture; cases on the rise among staff of our partner organisations, home care workers and clients. Entire teams testing positive, out of action, and healthcare systems extremely overstretched. She shared a message from a partner in Ukraine: ‘I can’t imagine how our clients cope when they get ill. There is no space in the hospitals. [When suffering with Covid-19] I was told, if you feel like you really can’t breathe, call us and we’ll put you on a list for a ventilator.’

Our Chief Executive Paul Anticoni then spoke with Alexander Tsodikovitch, Director of Community Programmes at our partner Hesed Emunah in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Alexander has worked at the Hesed for 20 years, supporting the shrinking, but lively and resilient local Jewish community. He explained how in a normal Ukrainian winter, older people end up housebound as snow makes travel dangerous and many lack adequate clothing to weather the biting cold. This winter our client group faces deeper isolation due to lockdown measures, which in turn is leading to higher rates of depression and loneliness.

Snow Ukraine

Ice and snow already makes parts of Ukraine inaccessible for older people.

With the support of World Jewish Relief, Hesed Emunah will pay heating bills, buy clients warm clothes and shoes, and provide heaters wherever they can. They will supply tablets for the most isolated, to connect them virtually with family and friends. However, the needs of this group are greater than the Hesed has the resources to meet. Alexander described the impossible decisions they have to make when prioritising who to support. He expressed gratitude for World Jewish Relief, whose partnership means they can provide winter relief to many of their 1,500 clients.

The evening ended with World Jewish Relief President Henry Grunwald leading a Chanukah lighting, and attendees joined in lighting their candles and singing together. Thank you to everyone who joined us.

If you were unable to attend last night’s event, you can still make a difference to the lives of older Jews this winter. Our Winter Appeal is helping provide relief for these clients through the months ahead. You can read more and donate here.

Winter Event

World Jewish Relief President Henry Grunwald leads a Chanukah lighting.

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