The Right Honourable Rory Stewart was guest speaker at World Jewish Relief’s annual dinner on Monday night which raised more than £1 million to help us ensure vulnerable Jewish people are not forgotten and not alone.
Drawing on his experience as Secretary for International Development and time spent working abroad, he spoke passionately about the important role philanthropy plays in driving charitable work and the remarkable achievements of World Jewish Relief’s international development work.
“I think World Jewish Relief is such an important model of how to do international development” he said, commenting on the personalised and targeted approach the charity takes to its programmes. “Whether it’s the work that you’re doing with people suffering from dementia in remote parts of the former Soviet Union, or the creativity of engaging with people with disabilities in countries like Rwanda, or the work you’re doing with Syrian refugees in Britain”.
Rory Stewart added that none of that would be possible without the generosity of everyone in the room and called philanthropy the forgotten story, “it’s the story of kind, human individuals who take risk, who are generous and who make things possible that would never otherwise be possible.”
Dan Rosenfield, chair of World Jewish Relief spoke about the challenging environment British Jews have endured over the past year with the resurgence of hard left anti-semitism, “a doctrine built, I believe, on a toxic cocktail of hostility to Israel, association of Jews with egregious capitalism and importantly a sense that we – British Jews – are no longer the victim. No longer vulnerable. And therefore this form of racism – anti-Jewish racism – does not really count as racism at all.”
But he urged the audience not to use it as an excuse to look in, “We – rooted in Jewish values – reject all forms of racism and prejudice… my message tonight is simple. Look out, not in. It is what World Jewish Relief has done for 87 years. Look out beyond our own families and communities to those in the wider Jewish world less fortunate than us. Look out beyond our own to those struggling in the face of disaster and avoid the temptation to look in, to turn in and to focus just on our own lives, our own security, our own fears.”
Dan recalled the early days of the charity’s history, when as the Central British Fund in 1945 it rescued 732 child Holocaust survivors and brought them to the UK and welcomed three of them onto the stage. Ben Helfgott, Harry Spiro and Harry Olmer were joined by members of the Young World Jewish Relief committee (Leor Mizrachi, Katie Neville and Rosa Shaul) and received standing ovations as Dan praised their life achievements and called them “an inspiration to every single one of us”.
Dan told the audience that just as World Jewish Relief did 75 years ago, now was the time to take action. Now was the time “to eradicate Jewish poverty for good. To ensure that Jewish aid supports those most vulnerable in the world. And to show the world that the Jewish voice is a global voice – rooted in the obligation to look out beyond our own, to take action and to welcome the stranger.”
The audience was shown a video featuring Dan Newton, a supporter of World Jewish Relief whose grandfather, Harry Newton, had been saved by the charity when he came to the UK on the Kindertransport with his sister Ruth. Dan had taken part in World Jewish Relief’s Berlin to London bike ride in 2018 to commemorate 80 years since the Kindertransport and travelled to Lviv to see how the money raised had made a difference.
He met Simyon, 91, whose son had worked at Chernobyl after the explosion and later died from radiation poisoning. His wife died recently and he sleeps in her coat to stay warm during the bitter cold winters. Rosa, 80, who found herself a prisoner in her own apartment after having a stroke and had to crawl around on all fours. And Clara, 85, whose parents were killed during the siege of Leningrad and grew up in an orphanage. She had never told anyone her story and opened up about the difficult conditions she had endured over the years.
Dan was visibly moved by meeting them and hearing their stories. He praised the support that World Jewish Relief provides for them in the form of medical treatment, weekly visits from psychologists and homecare workers. He commented that there were many people like them who had struggled for so long on their own and were only now reaching out to ask for or accept help. He reflected that having endured and survived so much, there was so much more that we could be doing for them to make their lives comfortable and dignified and without World Jewish Relief they would have no one else to help them.
The funds raised will provide a lifeline to older vulnerable Jewish people living in poverty, assist the next generation in finding sustainable employment and supporting themselves and help strengthen fragile Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.
Watch the Annual Dinner film and speeches here: