This Pesach will you help families in Ukraine deal with the trauma of war?

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Dear Friends,

In what has been an unimaginably difficult few months, I wanted to start by just saying thank you. Thank you for your ongoing support, and thank you for standing by, and alongside, us.
We simply couldn’t do our work without your encouragement particularly in these often dark and uncertain times.

The brutal October 7th terrorist attacks on Israel have caused unimaginable pain for so many of us across the Jewish community and beyond. The last few months serve as a stark reminder of the horrors of war and its vast and wide reaching impact.

I recently spent ten days visiting our partners in Ukraine. Two years on from the Russian invasion, the devastating impact on the country is palpable. In addition to the obvious destruction of buildings and infrastructure, I witnessed a population paralysed by fear, trauma, a crumbling economy, unemployment, restricted educational opportunities and massive displacement. There is a growing sense that Ukraine has had its time in the public spotlight, and the plight of the people is long forgotten. We simply can’t allow this to happen.

I witnessed the incredible impact our partners are having – both in Ukraine and across the border in Poland and Moldova. In the last year, our Back to Work programme empowered nearly 4,000 people to find sustainable employment and start rebuilding their lives based on self-reliance and dignity for themselves. Our Back to Childhood programme supported more than 2,000 children aged 6-13 with their cognitive development and basic educational assistance, psychological well-being, and social and emotional skills. And, through our Homecare, Active Ageing and Home Repair programmes we provided a vital lifeline to 47,524 people. These programmes serve the Jewish community and beyond, and are impossible to deliver without your kindness.

We’re also working extensively with thousands of Ukrainian refugees here in the UK. Last year we were awarded a major new contract from the UK government to deliver our award-winning STEP programme to up to 10,000 resettled Ukrainians. This ground-breaking programme, which we deliver in partnership with the British Council, is giving thousands of people completely free access to intensive English language and employment support. It helps them access the jobs market, earn a living, reduce their dependence on social benefits and build their capabilities for a potential return to Ukraine at some point. It continues to amaze me that a Jewish charity such as ours continues to champion employment support across the UK to this critical client group. And, it’s working. More than 4,000 people have already started the programme and we’ve already seen some incredible results including many successful job offers and significant improvements in English language skills.

This programme in so many ways connects our past to our present. We have been helping refugees arriving in the UK since the 1930s. Born out of the absolute need to rescue Jewish people from Nazi occupation, we supported more than 65,000 people from Eastern Europe before, during and after the Second World War with resettlement, jobs and skills that would enable them to feel at home in the UK. Now, with Ukrainians, and also with refugees from many other parts of the world including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iran, we hope we are playing a small part in contributing positively to a new life.

In November, I had the privilege of meeting our Royal Patron, The Former Prince of Wales, His Majesty the King, at a special commemorative event for the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht. His Majesty once again reaffirmed his commitment to the UK Jewish community, and commended our work across the world.

It is our Jewish values of Tzedakah, Hesed and Welcoming the Stranger, that drive us forward and guide our work every day. While I can’t promise that 2024 will be brighter than the year gone by, I can promise that our support to partners and responses to crises, conflicts and disasters will not wain. Your support is what makes our support possible.

Thank you.
Paul Anticoni

Chief Executive, World Jewish Relief

85th Anniversary of the Kindertransport

To mark the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport, and in collaboration with The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), we held a special commemorative service at Liverpool Street Station in London.  

This poignant ceremony paid tribute to the Kindertransport, one of Britain’s greatest rescue missions. Between November 1938 and September 1939, the Kindertransport saved the lives of approximately 10,000 largely Jewish children, escaping Nazi terror and persecution. These children are known to many as the ‘Kinder’.  

The Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, led the moving service against the backdrop of the Kindertransport statue sculpted by Frank Meisler, a Kinder himself from Danzig. The ceremony also featured memorial prayers, recited by Rabbi Wittenberg, a speech from World Jewish Relief’s President, Henry Grunwald OBE KC, and an excerpt from a letter of support sent by the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP.  

Over one hundred and fifty guests, including Kinder and their families, gathered at Hope Square at Liverpool Street Station. This was the arrival point for many of the rescued children. Together, attendees remembered the courage and honour of those forced to leave, and those left behind.  

The ceremony included a moving testimony from Alexandra Greensted, a Kinder who arrived unaccompanied in the UK from Prague, aged 7, in 1939. Her safe passage and survival was made possible by the heroic efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton. When she arrived in Britain, she was taken in by a host family. Her story was relayed by the grandson of her host family, who still affectionally refers to her as Auntie Alex:  

“Standing side by side with fellow Kindertransport refugees, I’m filled with gratitude for the brave actions of many and the tens of thousands of lives that were saved, and a great sadness for those we had to leave behind.”

The Kindertransport remains a beacon of hope, symbolising the triumph of compassion over hatred and resilience over despair. 

Watch the whole moving ceremony below.

How did the Kindertransport happen? 

In November 1938, after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, the idea to rescue children from the Nazis and bring them to Britain was proposed to the British Government by two of World Jewish Relief’s founders, alongside other organisations, and a delegation of prominent British Jews. Following a 45-minute appeal by the delegation directly to PM Neville Chamberlain, the British Government agreed to permit temporary admission of vulnerable Jewish children who were at risk of Nazi persecution, under the financial guarantee of the UK Jewish community.  

Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the UK Jewish community, World Jewish Relief, then the ‘Central British Fund for German Jewry’ (CBF), raised funds to cover the cost of travel for each of these children. Following their arrival, World Jewish Relief took responsibility for their welfare needs. This included psychological and financial support, education and training. The Kindertransport remains a beacon of hope, symbolising the triumph of compassion over hatred and resilience over despair.  

“During one of the darkest chapters of human history, the Kindertransport serves as an important reminder of the bravery and resilience of individuals whose lives were shattered by Nazi persecution.” – Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief 

Throughout the 1930s and 40s, World Jewish Relief supported over 65,000 Jewish refugees in total, for whom we hold their records in our digital archives. Find your family history through our free archives service.

From Crisis to Recovery: Turkey and Morocco

– By Kai Hopkins, Head of Humanitarian Programmes, World Jewish Relief 

Cut into the steep peaks of the High Atlas Mountains sits a series of small villages. Narrow tracks snake up from what was once the main road, taking you deeper into the spectacular and rugged range. For generations these small villages have existed as tight-knit communities, functioning like one big family, living off the land, and relying on their olives, honey, and nuts to make ends meet.  

Then, in one quick but all-defining moment, their world changed. Until the earthquake struck on September 8, no one spared much thought for these villages. Perched precariously among the olive and almond trees, they are what the locals tell me are the “Forgotten Morocco” – many miles away from the souks, bazars, and riads that dominate Morocco’s external image.  

In one village, I met Saïd, who showed me around. We carefully picked our way among the ruins of destroyed houses and cautiously walked through those that remain. The whole village will need to be fully rebuilt. It’s hard not to feel hopeless and overwhelmed. And even harder to imagine the almost unimaginable task of rebuilding a whole village, and where to start in helping a community to heal.  

“On the night of the earthquake, I came to the village to visit my parents who still live here. It was a terrifying moment. All the houses collapsed, and we had to dig a lot of people from under the rubble.” – Othman, member of Ididi village community in Morocco 

I take some solace from my experience leading World Jewish Relief’s humanitarian responses to disasters in Haiti, Colombia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and more recently in Turkey – where the earthquake which hit on February 6 was ten times more powerful than the earthquake in Morocco. In each crisis, I have seen how your support, and the remarkable resilience and courage of individuals and communities, has helped to rebuild lives.  

There is a danger however, that in our global news reporting, and in my role as a humanitarian, you get caught up in comparing and contrasting crises by statistics. Statistics such as death tolls, order of magnitude, numbers of people injured or houses damaged, and it can take away from the situation you’re in, the crisis you’re responding to, and ultimately the experience of those directly impacted. 

But every crisis, disaster and conflict is different. And every crisis, disaster and conflict requires a different, tailored response.  

In Turkey, after providing short-term relief with food, medicine and water, your support enabled us to build a large ‘container village’ to provide private, safe and warm accommodation to 400 families. We could do this because the earthquake affected many big, densely populated cities. As there are thousands of people living together and access is relatively easy, support services can be provided in one place, including community spaces, education, psychosocial support and livelihood recovery.  

Whereas in Morocco the earthquake hit a series of much, much smaller villages. These villages are also incredibly remote and hard to access, unlike the bigger cities in Turkey. Instead of large groups of people, there are small pockets of distinct communities. And so, whilst we were thankfully able to provide both countries with immediate humanitarian relief, and longer-term recovery, the ways we do it are quite different.  

In Morocco, we are supporting people in their own communities, and instead of bringing them together in a single large area, we have provided shelter and support in several of the affected villages. Similarly, given the history and culture of the high atlas region, our livelihood support will focus on sustainable and resilient farming. Whereas, in Turkey, we are emphasising vocational training and employment pathways. Navigating the differences between crises can be challenging. That’s why partnerships with local organisations, who know the landscape, needs and sensitivities of the communities they operate in, are core to how we work.  

In Turkey we’re working with our long-term partner, the International Blue Crescent, and in Morocco, we are working with the Moroccan Biodiversity Livelihoods Association, who have supported these communities for many years. We also worked closely with the Moroccan Jewish community, benefiting from their local knowledge and support.  

Ultimately, paying close attention to the real differences at a local level can help us have the greatest impact for affected communities. It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach, and we must always listen to, and work alongside, the people on the ground: our partners, the communities, and the individuals affected. 

A Visit to Israel: Immense Sadness and Immense Pride 

– By Maurice Helfgott, Ex Officio Board of Directors World Jewish Relief USA,  Chair of Trustees, World Jewish Relief  

On October 7th 2023, the world changed. As so many in our community were waking up, preparing to celebrate Simchat Torah – one of the most joyous days of the Jewish calendar – news was filtering in from Israel. News of attacks. 

Over the next few weeks, I felt the need to go to Israel, to share love and support with friends and family and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the nation. Six weeks later my son and I landed. I always feel a sense of homecoming when I arrive in Israel, and this time was no different. But, so much else was. In stark contrast to the normal hubbub of Ben Gurion airport, it was almost deserted. Instead of the tourism adverts, hostage posters lined the terminal.  

After October 7th, the unanimous feeling from the World Jewish Relief Board of Trustees and Professional team, was that we had to do something to help people in Israel. However, with so many excellent Israeli charities immediately supporting needs in Israel, we felt very strongly that it wouldn’t have been right to detract from their fundraising. As a result, we made the decision to support some specific unmet needs, which closely linked to our broader work, directly from our own reserves. I was lucky enough to get to visit these projects.  

The first was a youth village called Yemin Orde, run by Youth Aliyah. Yemin Orde is a home, school and safe haven to over 400 at-risk immigrant youth in Israel. This includes many who have come from Ukraine and Russia following the Russian invasion. Young people who have fled from conflict, only to find themselves in what is now also a war zone. We also visited the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), an organisation World Jewish Relief works alongside in Ukraine too. We heard all about the work they’ve done to provide essential trauma training to therapists across Israel, to try and go some way to help a deeply affected population.  

What is very clear from the hundreds of conversations I had during my trip is that life is not as usual. The October 7th attacks, the hostages, the war – this is all people are talking about. 

Everyone knows someone who is a victim. And so often older people told me of their sadness that after having spent much of their youth fighting in Gaza, they never expected their grandchildren to have to do the same.  

From the airport we went to visit with my aunt in Kfar Saba. Sitting on the balcony chatting while the sun was going down for Shabbat, we suddenly heard the siren go off. She’s elderly and not able to get to the shelter in her block of flats, so the three of us simply closed her window, already covered in heavy plastic, and went to sit in her small hallway. She explained that shortly we would hear a boom. When it came, I wasn’t prepared for the volume. It was a tremendous noise, as the iron dome knocked out a missile overhead. A minute or so later, we heard another one that sounded much further away. Ten minutes later, we were back on the balcony, as a flurry of local Whatsapps circulated checking if everyone was safe.  

The next day we drove to Jerusalem in a huge storm, but as we arrived at the Kotel the rain faded away. The whole area was completely empty, save for a man who asked us to lay tefillin and say a prayer for the hostages and the soldiers. My son and I quickly accepted. He didn’t ask for any Tzedakah, he just wanted to play a part in his own way to support Israel in its time of need. The whole experience was incredibly moving and made me realise even more acutely how connected people are feeling to their country and their people. Amidst the immense trauma and sadness, which is palpable in every place you visit and person you meet, there is also a sense of pride. I feel this too, and I’m certain I’ll be back there very soon. 


An Eight Year Journey for Communities in Nepal

– By Stacey Swimer, Director of International Programmes, World Jewish Relief  

After eight gruelling hours winding through roads in such poor conditions that it felt like we were in an earthquake simulator, we eventually arrived at our destination. The view was certainly breathtaking. Completely enclosed by the snow-capped Himalayas, small mountain villages were perched like birds’ nests along the crests of steep valleys. Rippling along these valleys were wide green plateaus, agricultural hotspots where crops were growing lusciously.  

But both literally and figuratively, these communities are on the edge. The discomfort of our eight-hour car journey withered in comparison to the eight years of struggle these communities have faced since the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. I vividly remember the day the earthquake struck. It devastated the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of people and reduced buildings and towns to nothing more than rubble. It was also the first time World Jewish Relief had worked in Nepal, and we moved quickly to respond to urgent humanitarian needs.  

We only partner with organisations who have local expertise and knowledge about the communities they serve. In Nepal, we quickly established a relationship with the Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC) and have been working with them ever since. We were one of their earliest disaster relief partners. These very same communities I stood amongst, high up in the mountains, were badly affected by the quake. But even before 2015, these people had been struggling. Living in extremely remote, isolated areas, where market access is difficult at best and impossible during the rainy, landslide season, they rely almost entirely on food they produce themselves.  

The earthquake could’ve been the crisis that pushed them over the edge. But as we’ve seen time and time and time again through our disaster relief work, people are remarkably resilient. Since 2015, we’ve worked closely with CSRC to help these communities rebuild their homes, gain land ownership and develop livelihoods. Through their own desire, hard work and creativity, they have seen life-changing progress.  

But now these communities face an even greater threat to their existence and way of life. The climate crisis. What used to be profitable livelihoods are starting to fail. Changing rainfall patterns, increased temperatures, new pests and disease, and water scarcity are disrupting farming like never before.  

And it’s not just affecting Nepal, it’s derailing lives across the world. As our Royal Patron, His Majesty the King, highlighted in his opening statement at COP-28 this year in Dubai, The dangers are no longer distant risks. I have seen across the Commonwealth and beyond, countless communities which are unable to withstand repeated shocks whose lives and livelihoods are laid waste by climate change.

The UN classifies a staggering three billion people as highly vulnerable to the climate crisis; it’s impossible to find anywhere unscathed.  

Two years ago, we began preparing communities across Nepal to develop sustainable livelihoods, which would be resilient to changes in climate. For the northern, mountainous communities, as well as southern communities in the flatter plains region, we have provided agricultural training, through local trainers who know the environment, the soil, and the crops. We’ve helped them learn specialist techniques, and to grow drought and flood resistant crops to eat and sell at market. By providing the resources and education for women to feel empowered to participate, we have ensured all members of the community can build resilient futures.  

Rabbi Dina Brawer, Executive Director of World Jewish Relief USA, told the story of one of our farmers in Nepal, 58-year-old Bishnu, to a room full of leaders, NGOs and policy makers at the Clinton Global Initiative September 2023 meeting. Bishnu’s story is one of hope, and details the life-changing impact our programmes are having. 

Driving back down the steep valleys, away from the power of the Himalayas, I wondered what I would find in another eight years. I am proud of how our support, in partnership with CSRC, has helped these communities rebuild their lives, and become more resilient to the climate crisis. As dramatic changes happen before our eyes, our support is more important than ever. 

Supporting Ukrainian Refugees in the UK

After two years of unrelenting conflict in Ukraine, World Jewish Relief remains as committed as ever to supporting Ukrainians. So far, we have reached over 300,000 Ukrainians with life-saving and life-changing aid. While millions have stayed, we know that, since the February 2022 invasion, millions of Ukrainians have also left their homeland, seeking refuge in countries including Moldova, Poland, Israel and the UK.  

We provide our award-winning STEP programme to thousands of Ukrainians in the UK, offering them completely free specialist job and English language support. On our STEP Ukraine programme, over 30% of our employment advisors are Ukrainian refugees themselves or refugees from other parts of the world including Sudan and Afghanistan. They offer not only job search support, but also a friendly face and source of confidence for those grappling with isolation, frustration, depression, and anxiety in a new country.  

This is a story about three women, who all now work for World Jewish Relief, providing specialist training and employment support to other Ukrainian refugees. Veronika, began working with us early in 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One of the first people she supported was Olena. Not long after finishing the STEP Ukraine programme, Olena too became an Employment Advisor. She started supporting other refugees in a similar position. Khrystyna was one of these refugees, arriving in the UK last summer. She too is now working as an Employment Advisor, using her skills and experience to support other Ukrainian refugees.  

Left to right: Khrystyna, Veronika and Olena

Veronika, age 36 “Working with refugees has always been my passion. I love working with people, supporting them to change their lives, and just being there for them. So, when I saw a job came up at World Jewish Relief, I went for it. It has been a life-changing move for me. I became the first Employment Advisor solely for Ukrainian refugees, and Olena was one of my first clients! It has been amazing to see the progress Olena has made since joining STEP Ukraine, especially with her English skills.”  

Olena, age 52  

“Back in Odessa, I worked as a Chief Accountant. It was a good life. When war started, I didn’t want to leave, but after the first big bombing of my city I spoke with my mum and said I needed to think about my safety.  

But I wasn’t prepared for life in England. It is not so easy to adapt when you are older. I had very little English and it felt like my job prospects would be almost zero. I even bought tickets to return to Ukraine. But Veronika saved me. She told me about STEP Ukraine, and my English improved a lot! When an Employment Advisor position came up, Veronika inspired me to go for it. She believes in me more than I believe in myself! Working at such an organisation has given me confidence and faith in the future again.”  

Khrystyna, age 24  

“After the war, I continued to work for a recruitment company. But it was hard. There were many energy blackouts, and finally the company had to close. I applied for a visa to the UK and arrived last summer to live with my sponsors.  

After a while I found a job as a cleaner. But I was so upset and confused. I had such a successful career in Ukraine, and I thought it would be easy for me to find a similar job here in the UK. But really it was complicated. I decided to join STEP Ukraine, and that was when I met Olena. I am so grateful for the support she gave me. I was finding life hard here, and she helped get my confidence back. Now I work as an Employment Advisor too, and I use my experiences as a Ukrainian refugee to help others going through the same thing.” 

I am very happy to see how she’s changed her life. It’s not just about the result. It’s about the inside feeling. – Olena, World Jewish Relief Employment Advisor 

If you know any Ukrainians who are interested in joining STEP Ukraine, please send them the sign up page here

Reflections from Ukraine

By Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive, World Jewish Relief 

In February, it will have been two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Two years that have turned people’s worlds upside down. Two years where millions of people have been internally displaced and millions more have left the country and become refugees. Two years of hundreds of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed. Two years where unemployment has raged. Two years in which Ukrainian children’s mental health and education has suffered greatly. Two years of war.  

At the end of last year, I travelled to Ukraine to meet with some of our extraordinary partners. My first stop was Kharkiv which, although it has seen darker days, is still a city close to the front lines. The streets are quiet, dark and there are military personnel everywhere. Not a building in the city has escaped damage, and it acts as a constant visible reminder of war.  

Most buildings have windows covered in plywood having been shattered by missiles, giving the sense of absence and emptiness. But, you can often see light shining through. Life exists despite the darkness. I visited an elderly Jewish couple whose flat was blasted by a missile just two days earlier. The World Jewish Relief Home Repairs team had already been on site, covering windows with plywood and measuring up for replacement glass. No surprise we move quickly there, despite the context.  

I visited other sites hit by missiles over the weekend, with repair teams trying as much as possible to secure residences within hours. So much of this is only possible because of your unwavering support to our Home Repairs work. However, as it gets colder, things in Ukraine become even harder. When the temperature plummets, and cities and towns continue to be subjected to destruction, people’s needs become more acute. The impact of blown out windows in these kinds of temperatures is extremely dangerous, particularly as many of the people affected are elderly.  

This is true all across the country. Insecure and damaged buildings, combined with freezing conditions, bring the outside even closer to people. People’s homes, which should be a safe haven to them, may have no heating or no electricity. Hanna, an older lady from Kherson, told us that she sleeps in a hat, gloves and coat for warmth. I know, from speaking to many people, that surviving the winter is not something that is taken for granted. It’s why we are focusing our fundraising efforts on our Home Repairs programme this winter. I truly believe that in some cases it can be the marker between life or death.  

I travelled south of Kharkiv into more rural areas where fighting, lack of access and insecurity has meant life is unbelievably tough. Visiting families that our partner Blagorob has been assisting, it was a shock to see how desperate the situation remains. One small farmstead I visited is headed by a woman, whose husband and father are fighting in the war while she and her 11-year-old daughter must tend to the vegetables and chickens to survive. Too connected to her land to leave, and fiercely proud and self-sufficient, she was amazed at the very practical targeted assistance being given.  

Of course, life was probably tough for these families pre-war, but they certainly remain very much on a knife edge. World Jewish Relief has supported people and projects in Ukraine for more than 30 years. I personally have been lucky enough to visit our partners in Ukraine dozens of times in recent years. However, on this visit, I certainly felt the toll that war has taken on the people of Ukraine and the country itself.  

The earth of course continues to turn, and other crises like the horrendous massacre in Israel, rightfully take up space in our minds and in our hearts. But, on this trip I felt more than ever the responsibility we also have to Ukraine. To ensuring that the people aren’t forgotten as the war continues its long path. To ensure that the vital work that our partners are doing to support Jewish and non-Jewish women, children, men, mothers, fathers, grandparents not just to survive, but to once again, thrive, continues. 

Help Ukrainians survive the winter today   

We are focusing our fundraising efforts on our Home Repairs programme this winter. I truly believe that in some cases it can be the marker between life or death.Paul Anticoni