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Reach Out Summer 2023

90 Years of Life-Saving Work
Buildings destroyed after an earthquake

Introduction

By Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive

Dear Friends, so much of World Jewish Relief’s work over the last 18 months has focused on our remarkable response to catastrophic disaster, from our unprecedented emergency support across Ukraine, to distributing food and shelter items just 24 hours after earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria.

Yet the real foundation and secret to our disaster response capability has been our disaster preparedness. We all know the mantra that smoke alarms are as important as a fire brigade, and that prevention is better than cure. While it is impossible to accurately predict all forms of natural disaster, assessing where climate hazards, earthquakes and conflict regularly occur does enable us to be ready and plan accordingly.

In Ukraine today, so much of our work helps individuals mitigate the impact of conflict or strengthen their resilience to the situation. Preparedness is again key. Helping, for example, thousands of older Jewish clients have at least one warm room in their home enabled many to survive the trauma of winter, even when power supplies were interrupted by Russian missile strikes on energy infrastructure.

For others in Ukraine, our focus is on helping them find work, earn some cash and be less dependent on a dwindling number of agencies providing handouts. As humanitarian funds diminish, it is critical we prioritise people helping themselves. So far 52% of those on our employment programmes are finding work and earning an income. This will be essential in the coming months and years.

Nevertheless, there are many in Ukraine who remain reliant on us for ongoing emergency needs, particularly close to the frontlines. I am horrified by the psychological trauma that all Ukrainians have suffered. Ten million Ukrainians are at risk of acute anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and will need psychological support. With help from the Israeli Trauma Coalition, our local Ukrainian partners have been trained to provide psychological first aid to teenagers and children.

And just as we did in the 1930s for Jewish refugees arriving in the UK, our focus for Ukrainians and other refugees given the right to live and work here has been helping them learn English and find work, with support that has been extended to 1,500 refugees. As we approach Refugee Week, we celebrate the significant leadership role that World Jewish Relief plays in the refugee employment arena.

But we can only be as good as our local partners across the world enable us to be, so investing in their technical performance, financial accountability and understanding of local community needs further builds their preparedness to respond to crisis. Every one of our amazing supporters has in some way a critical partnership with World Jewish Relief. We are inspired by your engagement with us and hopefully inspire you with the impact we are able to have on so many people’s lives.

Thank you.

Turkey-Syria Earthquake Response

On Monday 6th February 2023, two deadly earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria, followed by thousands of aftershocks, displacing six million people and claiming over 50,000 lives. Shock and devastation have rippled throughout the region, causing unimaginable suffering to already vulnerable, war-torn populations.

“A blanket of dust coats everything, sitting in the back of the throat and stinging the eyes. Just as thick hangs an eerie stillness, an unnatural silence that feels deafening. Occasional tower blocks stand awkwardly at impossible angles with whole sections missing, providing a glimpse into the lives they once housed, while all around lie mounds of what was once a city, now reduced to rubble.” – Kai Hopkins, Head of Humanitarian Programmes, Antakya, Turkey, March 2023

Within days we were able to provide food and shelter to those affected, thanks to the generous response from World Jewish Relief’s supporters, sending life-saving supplies to both sides of the Turkey-Syria border. Our trusted local partner, the International Blue Crescent (IBC), have been operating in the area for many years and we have worked with them on a number of occasions, supporting the Uyghur community stranded in Turkey, Afghans affected by conflict, and more recently, responding to the floods in Pakistan.

Sadly, such is the nature of this particular crisis that many of IBC’s staff have been impacted too, losing their homes and loved ones to the earthquakes’ widespread destruction.

As the crisis evolves, we are providing hygiene items, prefabricated shelters which provide privacy and safety, and mental health support. Through IBC, we are planning large-scale livelihood support for people whose sources of income were decimated overnight. This will help keep people active, able to earn money and provide for themselves again.

Our Impact in Numbers

  • £750,000 raised thanks to our generous supporters
  • Life-saving support to 8,500 people across Turkey and Syria
  • 42 prefabricated homes supplied providing safety and privacy to internally displaced persons
  • 1,000 people provided with food, medical supplies and mental health support for a month at IBC’s community centre in Turkey

A Jewish Community on the Frontlines

World Jewish Relief has long supported a twinning programme connecting Dunstan Road Synagogue in Golders Green with the Jewish community of Zaporizhzhia. When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Zaporizhzhia found itself on the frontlines of the conflict. What began as a community twinning programme immediately evolved into a life-saving humanitarian operation, supported by World Jewish Relief, with Rabbi Ehrentreu and local community volunteers at its helm.

Two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, the synagogue and World Jewish Relief responded to a request for financial support from Rabbi Ehrentreu so that he could purchase food and medicine in advance of what he realised was an imminent war.

The following is a snapshot of the past year as experienced by a Jewish community on the frontlines of the Russian invasion. It is based on bulletins prepared by a member of Dunstan Road Synagogue, in regular contact with Rabbi Ehrentreu.

Shock, Panic and Emergency Response – The Early Days of War

1st March: Zaporizhzhia’s residents orgare unsafe, with tank warfare on the outskirts of the city making evacuation very dangerous. Rabbi Ehrentreu was fired upon whilst delivering supplies to community members.

3rd March: Zaporizhzhia is almost surrounded by Russian troops, and it is very difficult to leave. 98 community members manage to escape on an overnight train. Instead of 2,000 passengers, 8,000 are crammed onto the train. The evacuees are well provided with food and water, but the journey is slow and dangerous.

7th March: World Jewish Relief transfers a substantial sum that enables the life-saving and urgent work to continue. Many older and frail members of the Zaporizhzhia community are unwilling to leave their homes and it is vital there is sufficient food and medicine for those who are staying.

17th March: The community receives refugees from Mariupol, which has come under intensive Russian assault in recent weeks. After eating, they are taken to a nearby hotel where beds have been arranged for the night. This morning a full bus with 50 people from Mariupol leaves for Lviv, but 15 minutes later, sirens sound, and two bombs are dropped on central Zaporizhzhia near the Shul. In Melitopol (a city near Zaporizhzhia already occupied by Russian forces) a Russian officer marches into the shul accompanied by three armed soldiers. The officer tells the community leadership that when distributing food, they should tell recipients it was a humanitarian gift from Russia, and not to credit World Jewish Relief for the supplies.

23rd March: The Rabbi is urging all his community to leave the city as there are fears that it will soon suffer the same fate as Mariupol. Many are frightened to set out on such a perilous journey, particularly the old and frail.

4th April: Rabbi Ehrentreu is deeply upset as a teacher from the community’s Jewish school along with her daughter and granddaughter were killed in Bucha during an offensive in nearby Kyiv.

10th April: The Rabbi is coaching internally displaced community members to lead the Seder. Supplies of extra food, matzo, wine, and grape juice have been delivered for a large public Seder for the evacuees now in western Ukraine.

Resilience and Freedom – Pesach 2023

In Summer 2022 Rabbi Ehrentreu appealed for funds to build a bomb shelter next to the Jewish School. Thanks to the generous response of Dunstan Road Shul and World Jewish Relief’s donors, the shelter (the only one in Zaporizhzhia) was completed before Pesach. This enabled the community to safely hold a Seder. Over two nights, 390 people attended the Seders. Fortunately, there were no sirens or bombs.

Despite facing attacks over the past year, the atmosphere was joyful as the community celebrated the Festival of Freedom together. Under horrific circumstances, Rabbi Ehrentreu and the community have shown remarkable resilience and the humanitarian operation has allowed the community to survive. The full updates since the start of the war can be read at www. standwithzaparozhye.com.

Learn more about our Ukraine Crisis Response.

Supporting Refugees for 90 Years

Group of refugee women standing facing the camera with certificates in hand.

19th June is the start of Refugee Week, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of people seeking sanctuary. Since 1933 World Jewish Relief has helped refugees to escape conflict and disaster, and integrate successfully into their new lives.

In 2016, we launched our Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) in the UK which supports over 1,500 refugees every year to learn English, find employment and establish independent lives.

Whilst STEP has gone from strength to strength, we found that women refugees were achieving fewer job outcomes, dropping out more frequently, and weren’t moving through the programme as quickly as men. That’s why we launched our STEP Forward programme.

 

Celebrations in Coventry at the STEP Forward Graduation

By Cosmo Robertson Charlton, Communications and Marketing Officer

In Coventry, the scene was jubilant. The inspiring women on our STEP Forward programme had just graduated from a 36-week course, which tackles some of the gender-specific barriers to integration women refugees face in the UK.

Through mentorship, peer leadership, English and IT literacy sessions, the women build confidence, independence, friendships and skills so they can make informed decisions about their futures here in the UK.

The room was hectic; children running around, women laughing loudly with each other. Before STEP Forward, many of these women were isolated, barely leaving the house. Now they smile and laugh with women from many cultures; Afghans, Syrians, Ukrainians, Hong Kongese and Eritreans.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our STEP Forward graduates who have achieved so much through their dedication, determination and desire to learn. I’m excited to see where their newfound confidence, skills and networks take them!” – Abelia Leskin, Senior Programmes Officer on our STEP Forward team

One woman I met was Samira, who was forced to leave her life in Syria behind due to ongoing conflict and instability. Before arriving in the UK, Samira held many roles in the social care and education sector, and even opened her own dairy products business.

On arrival in Coventry, her lack of English held her back and prevented her entering the UK job market, and she quickly became isolated. That’s when she decided to join our STEP Forward programme.

Since graduating, Samira has made important steps towards her goal of working in a school, and has volunteered with a local charity as a play worker and as a cook for refugees arriving in the UK.

“Mixing with others in the classroom has helped me to expand my aspirations. The English classes have helped to improve my English. My confidence and self-esteem have improved a lot. I was shy at the beginning but now I am calm and confident and can express myself. If anyone wants to achieve something in life, you must work very hard no matter the obstacles or language barrier – just make sure you work hard and you will reach your goals.” – Samira, STEP Forward graduate

Sabina’s Story: from Seeking Safety to Supporting Refugees

In March 2022 Sabina Artemieva fled Ukraine with her 17-year-old son. For the past year she has worked as World Jewish Relief’s Homes for Ukraine Project Officer and Caseworker, matching Ukrainians with sponsors and supporting their transitions to life in the UK. Sabina reflects on her experience.

Tell us about your life in Ukraine.

Before the war I lived in Kyiv with my 17-year-old son. I worked at an organisation helping people to discover their Jewish roots. When Russia invaded, I thought the war would be over in weeks. But then one day our Rabbi told us we had to leave. It was Shabbat, and I thought ‘If he wants me to leave on Shabbat, that means something. Maybe it’s more serious than I can imagine’.

How did you come to the UK?

I heard that the UK would be starting its Homes for Ukraine scheme and I put a request on Facebook for a Jewish home with a kosher kitchen. I found my sponsor and we applied for visas on the day the scheme opened. Nine days later we arrived.

Did you have any expectations for what your life would be like here?

My only hope was to be in a safe place for as long as the fighting continued. I soon found my Jewish community, which made a big difference. They have been so supportive with everything from providing accommodation to finding my job.

Tell us about your job at World Jewish Relief.

We find Ukrainians and match them with hosts in the UK. When they arrive, we help them with everything. I remember all the difficulties I had at first. Job centres couldn’t even spell ‘Ukraine’! Things that took me months to sort out, I can now organise with my clients in weeks.

What makes World Jewish Relief’s approach effective?

We have strong and close contact with Ukrainians. We don’t just match them and forget about them; we hold their hands and walk alongside them. My clients tell me that we are their family here. Also, we know that accommodation is not enough. I work closely with our employment advisors to ensure my clients can find work and learn English. It’s so important that we give them an opportunity to become independent.

Have you had any particularly memorable moments with clients?

Just last week we assessed a mother with a 17-year-old son living in Ukrainian territory currently under Russian occupation. The stories she shared were terrifying. She is so worried that her son could be conscripted not by Ukraine, but by Russia, to fight against his own country. It is incredibly hard, but we will do everything we can to help them escape.

How do you feel, having left Ukraine, doing this work every day?

It is a really satisfying feeling that I can help Ukrainians who are suffering. It doesn’t trigger me or make me depressed. It helps me to leave the bad things behind and focus on helping others. I don’t think that I could find a better job here.

Do you let yourself think about the future?

After what’s happened to us, it’s difficult to plan. I think about the small things – my son’s next steps, new responsibilities at work – but when it comes to the bigger picture, I am afraid to think too far ahead. How can I hope and dream, when everything is uncertain?

Rebuilding Lives in Ethiopia

By Madison Jansen, Humanitarian Programmes Officer

From the rugged peaks of the highlands to the hippopotamus-filled Blue Nile River, Ethiopia is a country widely known for both its coffee – and its conflict. For two years, the world has watched war unfold in the country’s northernmost Tigray region. But whilst a recent peace agreement has brought most hostilities to a standstill, a lesser-known conflict in the Oromia region still rages on.

Oromia is Ethiopia’s largest region, and home to the largest ethnic group in the country: the Oromo. Incensed by feelings of historic persecution, rebel groups such as the Oromia Liberation Army (OLA) reportedly engage in violence against minority ethnicities, such as the Amhara people.

As a result, there has been a spike in people fleeing the Oromia region; trekking for days on foot to reach safety, leaving everything behind. Tens of thousands of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) settle in informal camps in Debre Birhan; a city in the Amhara region of central Ethiopia. Although safe from persecution, the humanitarian support received by IDPs is wholly inadequate – many live without reliable access to food, clean water, healthcare, and other essentials.

Recently, I travelled to Debre Birhan to visit some of these camp settlements and our local partner CcSa, to gain a better understanding of who the IDPs are, what they’ve been through, and what humanitarian support they need most.

For many of us, the term ‘camp’ tends to conjure up images of tents in neat rows. But these IDPs are mostly living out of corrugated metal factory buildings in various states of disrepair. In some camps, there is no electricity at all, and it’s not uncommon for hundreds of families to sleep side by side in one building. Children play outside, with no school to go to.

I listen as IDPs describe their harrowing journeys to safety in Amhara: “200 members of our community spent three days and three nights sustained only by river water and some bread, travelling on foot through the jungle. At night, we were afraid the hyenas would attack us.”

When I ask about the support they’d been receiving in Debre Birhan, one IDP tells me: “We are tired of being dependent on humanitarian aid; we hope to begin generating income like we did back home [in Oromo]. This would mean having financial freedom and becoming self-reliant.”

In support of this, and alongside emergency food rations, World Jewish Relief will provide 50 female-headed households with business, entrepreneurship and capital investment training, through our local partner. IDPs will start small businesses in the Debre Birhan host community, selling locally made foods, goods and other handicrafts.

As my time in Ethiopia came to an end, I felt a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I was haunted by the traumatic stories and poor living conditions. I was reassured, however, that IDPs felt welcomed and safe in their new home. I also left with greater confidence in World Jewish Relief’s approach to providing livelihood assistance. For IDPs with no hope of returning to their homeland, this support will pave the way to self-reliance and economic independence in their new community.

World Jewish Relief at 90: The Historian Using the Past to Connect the Present

Dr Rachel Pistol joined World Jewish Relief in 2019 as our first ever voluntary Honorary Historian. Based at King’s College London, Rachel is the UK National Coordinator of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure. She also teaches Refugee History at Cambridge University and is a Visiting Fellow at the Parkes Institute of Southampton. She tells us how she first got involved, and why it is important to bring our history to life.

“My PhD focused on WWII internment of Japanese in America, and Germans, Italians and Austrians in the UK. I am fascinated by the similarities and differences between how these groups were treated, and the treatment of refugees and immigrants is a topic that has underpinned my research career.

My work asks important questions around how refugees have come to this country and integrated into society. As a historian I am driven by telling stories that can influence policy and improve the experiences of refugees today.

I first encountered World Jewish Relief when I visited the offices to find my family’s files within the archive. I’d never known my grandfather, who was a Jewish refugee from Vienna, and through the archive some of the gaps in our family’s history were finally filled in. We’d always wondered what happened to our great aunt, who moved to America during the war, and we were able to find out her married name and track down our long-lost cousins in America.

Last autumn we travelled to America and met up with our cousin, which was just amazing. She gave us some jewellery which my great grandfather, a jeweller, had made in Austria. I’d never been able to physically touch my family’s past. After years of providing documentation to other people who wanted to find out about family members, I finally had my own experience of how powerful an archive can be. It was amazing.

In 2019, Paul Anticoni approached me as he wanted to make the archive more accessible and better known and was looking for someone to pick up the project and run with it. I was quick to agree, and I spent considerable time exploring the unparalleled record of all the refugees who came to the UK in the 1930s and 40s with the charity’s help. Nowhere else is such an archive held. I would encourage anyone with Jewish heritage whose family came from Austria, Germany or elsewhere in Central Europe to enquire about their family’s history.

I see my role at World Jewish Relief as twofold: to make the archive more accessible to more people, and to raise awareness of it so we can connect more people with their families’ stories, as I was so lucky to be able to connect with mine.

I love that World Jewish Relief uses its history as the inspiration for its continued work today, helping people wherever they are in times of crisis. The speed and expertise with which the team can get help on the ground is truly incredible, and I am proud to be associated with the charity.

More people need to know about World Jewish Relief, and I hope that through the archive we can play a part in connecting the past with the present.”