An update on our work from Paul Anticoni
Many of our vulnerable Jewish clients throughout Eastern Europe live in “Khrushchyovkas” – prefabricated concrete blocks, named after the Soviet leader who initiated their mass production in the 1950s, which were designed to solve a housing crisis. The scale and rapidity of construction was celebrated internationally at the time. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, they have outlasted their 25-year shelf life and today leave inhabitants living in appalling disrepair.
Not one for opulence, Khrushchev’s commitment to solving the urban housing shortage was rapid construction of sturdy buildings, with little spent on design. Sixty years on and whilst the buildings remain sturdy, the heating, water and waste arrangements haven’t matched the buildings’ longevity. Energy efficiency was never contemplated and the rotten windows let in the icy winter air.
Our older clients treat these homes as their palaces. They are clean, tidy and “ownership” gives a sense of pride. But for many, their building’s disrepair contributes to a downward spiral of physical and mental wellbeing. Ice freezes on the insides of the windows in winter, few have a functioning bathroom or toilet and the chronic damp, rotting ceilings, mouldy walls and smell of decay is abhorrent.
Winter in Ukraine is only manageable with a solid barrier to keep the cold out. Instead the default is simply to wear all the clothes you own, stay in bed and shiver. And that may mean shivering for five long months – if you can survive that long.
World Jewish Relief is many people’s heating system. We’ve embarked on a massive home repair programme, championed by our Patron, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to repair every Jewish person’s dilapidated home that needs fixing in the Former Soviet Union over the next five years. That’s 3,500 homes! New heating systems, double-glazed windows, running water, toilets, secure doors and new plaster. Ambitious, yes – but we never shirk a challenge.
World Jewish Relief has been blessed to have been led by a generation of outstanding Chairmen and I am lucky to call on six of them for wise counsel. But we lost a true statesmen in Kenneth Rubens last October. Kenneth was President, Chairman and trustee in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Principled, highly intelligent, diplomatic and a true gentleman, Kenneth led World Jewish Relief into the uncertainties of responding to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the expansion of our work to assist a massive and impoverished Jewish community.
We proudly state that all our work is guided by ‘Jewish values’. In discussion with a group of Rabbis and Jewish educators, we recently sought to capture the essence of these values. This group concluded that tzedakah and hesed underpin our work, but it is the “action” of applying the values that makes us stand out. I celebrate our focus on “doing” not talking – our courage inspired as much by those we help as those who help us to help.
Within the last year, we have been busy with so much action. Helping almost 43,000 people is testament to this! But we want to do even more, which is why we’re encouraging community members to join our volunteer Disaster Response Team, to assist our humanitarian response at times of major international disaster. If you are interested or know someone who might be, further details are on our website.
Thank you for all of your support.