The resurgence of Jewish life in a city devastated by the Holocaust was described as a ‘modern day miracle’ at World Jewish Relief’s Annual Dinner on Monday night. Guests heard how the charity, which supports Jewish communities most in need across eastern Europe, has seen astonishing success in Krakow, Poland where it built the Jewish Community Centre ten years ago at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales.
Jonathan Ornstein, the dynamic and visionary Executive Director of the JCC Krakow, told more than 400 diners at the Guildhall about how JCC Krakow has not only become the primary caregiver for more than 60 holocaust survivors living in the city but also a hub for young Poles discovering their Judaism. He also spoke about how proud he is of the JCC’s new Jewish pre-school, the first to open in Krakow for over 70 years. “Every morning I walk into work an hour’s drive from Auschwitz and I hear the laughter of Jewish children. That’s a miracle.”
Speaking about the importance of supporting a community like this he said, “It matters because being Jewish means being part of a family and these young people are lost, and we don’t leave our lost family members behind anywhere.” He spoke about the power we have to give individuals “the basic human necessities most of us never have to think about – a roof over our heads, heat in the winter, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And also the power to affect the future of entire communities, like Krakow… A community that suffered so much and now, miraculously, has hope.”
The event raised more than £1million and the money will benefit the world’s poorest Jewish communities. It will enable World Jewish Relief to provide a range of life-changing support to older Jews including homecare, medical support, fuel for winter, repairs to their homes and toilets, activities to combat isolation and loneliness by connecting them to the Jewish community and other welfare and Livelihood programmes.
The dinner was hosted by BBC presenter Emily Maitlis who spoke about how World Jewish Relief has been “saving lives since 1933” and its role in the Kindertransport. She congratulated the 42 riders who completed the Berlin to London bike ride in June 2018 raising £200,000 for the charity and told the story of Paul Alexander, one of the youngest Kind, who completed the ride with his son and grandson. Emily paid tribute to Harry Bibring who rode the last mile of the 600 mile ride on a tandem with his son Michael and died last week.
Emily also presented Debbie Cantor with the Harry Heber Outstanding Volunteer Award on behalf of the volunteers who manage World Jewish Relief’s treasure trove of personal historical records from the 1930s and 40s. She said, “Debbie took on the task of recruiting and leading a team of volunteers to manage this complicated and sometimes emotional and traumatic process”, reuniting individuals with documents detailing the support given to family members when they came to Britain as refugees. Last year almost 800 requests for family information were submitted and the team takes time “to communicate with each and every one of them, enlightening and enlivening their understanding of their own family history”.
World Jewish Relief’s Chair, Dan Rosenfield, told supporters that the evening was about celebrating all that we have achieved together, “the millions of lives we have saved since our work began all those years ago in 1933; the 14,000 people we have helped into work since we began our Livelihoods programme in 2011; the 3,000 homes we have repaired since 2010, doubling the pace of our work in the past year.” But he added that “celebrating our achievements is not enough… We will not be satisfied with what we have achieved. We will instead be inspired to do more, to do better. We must and we will commit to finish the job we started, never to rest until we eradicate Jewish poverty for good.”
Introducing a film about Galina, one of the 19,000 older people World Jewish Relief has supported in the past year, Emily said, “I wish one could be more optimistic about life in Ukraine today”. Emotionally recalling her own experience of visiting some of the poorest Jewish communities in eastern Europe, she said “saving lives can come in many forms… winter relief, food, medicines… [and] for the Galinas of this world, World Jewish Relief is more than a lifeline, it’s truly life-saving”.
Watch our Livelihoods film from the night: