How Jewish charities are helping people to a better place
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How Jewish charities are helping people to a better place

Just as the Israelites moved to a better place, Jewish charities help individuals do the same every day. Here are some of their stories...

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

Abi, 17, (pictured above), has been supported by Camp Simcha since she was diagnosed with a facial tumour when she was six. “My diagnosis and treatment started to take over my life as my condition means I have multiple operations each year, doctor’s appointments and chronic pain from the condition which doctors can’t relieve,” she says.

“At first I tried to accept that I wouldn’t be able to do the things friends and classmates could do. I felt angry and depressed which impacted my self-esteem and confidence. But Camp Simcha came into my life and showed me everything is possible. Anything my friends could do, I could too.”

One of the most life-changing aspects for Abi was the therapeutic art sessions. “This is where my passion for art began.  Together with their art teacher Belinda, I created wonderful pieces, some of which  sold to raise money for charity. It has been a great outlet for my feelings – and really cheered me up when pain was getting me down. But mostly, it helped me gain confidence. That gave me the courage to create my Instagram page @braveartist2005.

“I’ve had other great experiences with Camp Simcha, such as going on family retreats and also children’s retreats with other chronically ill kids. One of my favourite memories is standing up in front of everyone singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen. I never thought I could go away without my family because of my health issues, but took a summer trip to its USA sister organisation and met many other people with chronic illnesses.” Camp Simcha’s constant presence reminded Abi that she could do things. “Just in a different way that empowered me to come out the other side of what I was going through.” www.campsimcha.org.uk

 

World Jewish Relief supports the world’s poorest Jewish communities and responds to international disasters like the one ongoing in Ukraine, where it has been helping people to flee. Recently WJR’s humanitarian team met Svetlana as she crossed the border into Moldova with her two young children.

She says: “When we crossed the border, I experienced great relief. I’d been so afraid that the column of refugees could be fired upon from the Ukrainian side of the border. I was glad my parents were able to cross with me. I feel a great sense of gratitude to the people who organized the evacuation of children.”

Olga Marshak (pictured above), her husband and two children were helped to flee from Odessa to the Palanca border crossing into Moldova. Marshak’s husband had meningitis as a child so isn’t eligible to enlist into the army; he is one of few men who have been able to flee. Taking a 15-hour coach journey from Odessa to the border under police escort, they were met by WJR’s partners at the border and transported to emergency accommodation outside Chisinau. They will shortly be leaving for Israel. www.worldjewishrelief.org

Before moving into his Jewish Blind & Disabled flat, Jason, 58, lived with family and friends and then a B&B. Suffering from osteo-arthritis and waiting for a knee replacement, Jason hated the B&B: “It was horrendous, and I had a serious fall which left me with an ongoing arm injury.” Calling Jewish Blind & Disabled in desperation, just five weeks later he moved into his new home and is now happy and secure.

“I also come home to people I can chat to and have peace of mind knowing house managers are there if I need anything or have another fall. There’s also a minibus to take me shopping and a tenancy support team to help source donated furniture I could not afford.” Jason finally has a home with heart. www.jbd.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Max Altaras wanted to find a volunteering role that would enhance his Jewish values. The 18-year-old was keen to work in an outdoor environment and help the homeless. JVN (Jewish Volunteering Network) was able to connect Max with City Harvest New Spitalfield’s Market. The placement has been a huge success, with the City Harvest crew declaring Max an essential part of the team. Max says he has met “some of the kindest and most sincere people, who I consider friends. I have a new insight into how the charity sector is run and the food waste that is experienced globally.” Nicky Goldman, Chief Executive of JVN couldn’t be more delighted. “We found Max his perfect volunteering role, which clearly enables him to live by his Jewish values and help make the world a better place.” www.jvn.org.uk

Tikva cares for homeless, abandoned and abused Jewish children of Ukraine and neighbouring regions of the former Soviet Union. Kolya, now 21 (pictured above), was six when Tikva found him on the streets. His mother was unable to care for him, his father’s whereabouts was unknown but with the charity’s help, he graduated from their school and following meetings with his guidance counsellor, decided he wanted to be a cab driver because he loves meeting people. Tikva set up a driving course on which he passed his test and is now a licensed cab driver. Koyla thoroughly enjoys his job, which gives him a sense of purpose, independence and security. A far cry from his start in life. tikvauk.org

“There is something palpable about working in an organisation with a clear set of values like those emanating from Yad Vashem UK Foundation,” says Laurie Rosenberg, Bar and Bat Mitzvah Twinning Project Manager at the charity. “It’s about forging links with Holocaust survivors, their families and generations to follow.” Laurie creates meaningful encounters through a project linking young people with a ‘twin’ whose life was cut short during the Holocaust. “Working at Yad Vashem UK is more than a job – it’s a privilege, and there is real joy in helping a family retrace their roots, or a young person research their background and be proud of their identity. Our work helps in the mitzvah of educating about the dangers of antisemitism and is also a spiritual activity, since we help people, schools and organisations to explore their collective history and create new bonds of friendship.” www.yadvashem.org.uk

Gabriel (22) approached Resource in August 2020 when he was put on furlough. He was assigned a volunteer professional advisor, who discussed how to move forward with his career aspirations, including research into HR admin roles, CIPD for ways to train through distance learning and producing a functional CV. When the government announced their Kickstart scheme in early 2021, Resource had a vacancy for an administrative assistant and Gabriel got the job. At Resource Gabriel gained valuable work experience and was a valued member of the small office team. When his  six-month contract at Resource came to an end he got a permanent role. “Without the one-to-one support of my advisor, the wonderful workshops and seminars, and networking opportunities that Resource offer I don’t think I would have got where I am today!” www.resource-centre.org

 

Ebby (second from back on the right) and DCafe volunteers

Ebby always wanted to be a teacher but found that it is hard to choose your own career path when you’re deaf. After studying business at college, she found it impossible to find work. Meanwhile, she was caring for her disabled mother. Without friends or chances to meet other deaf people, she became withdrawn, and her confidence dwindled. After eight years of struggling with depression, she found her place – on the Dcafe Volunteer Training Scheme at the JDA (Jewish Deaf Association) signing café. Now, Ebby is part of an inspirational team of unemployed deaf people, all working together to provide a popular hub for the deaf signing community. She has gained confidence and skills to become more employable. She has also discovered a mean talent for baking! Ebby says: “Dcafe has changed my life. It’s great to learn new skills and we love seeing customers with smiles on their faces!” www.jdeaf.org.uk

Aged five, Azaria is the youngest of nine children in a family living in Israel. He has Down’s Syndrome, epilepsy and severe cognitive delays. True to his Chabad roots, he loves a good farbrengen (get together). As a baby his therapy and medical needs became more apparent as the months progressed and he started rehab day care aged one. When he was three it was time to move to a more serious preschool program that would cater to his needs. With the hekp and support of ADI, the family found a school in the special needs rehab and education village Adi Negev, which proved to be the perfect place for him and not far from home. He has a regular preschool day plus multiple therapies including occupational, physical, speech/eating, music and iPad communication instruction “When he gets home from preschool, his needs have been met and we can just enjoy his company,” says his mum Miiko. “This in itself is a gift. But to know that Azaria’s got the best team at Adi Negev routing for him to be the best Azaria possible is really a beautiful thing.” adi-il.org

Stephen, a skilled furniture maker and respected expert in the field of antiques and philately was living alone in the same house for most of his life. Amiable and kind-hearted, he joined KKL on a legacy mission to Israel to see for himself the work that JNF UK are doing in the Negev. This was his first trip abroad and he was moved by the projects he saw and the people he met. When Stephen became ill and was unable to go out or to prepare meals for himself KKL’s pastoral team regularly visited him and made sure he had kosher food. They liaised with his family and accompanied him to A&E when he was taken by ambulance and was there for him until sadly, he passed away. They worked together with his cousins to ensure he received a dignified funeral and kaddish was said with a minyan. Although not all KKL clients need the level of involvement given to Stephen, the organisation is there when they do. www.kkl.org.uk

Ivan Sugarman, 92, was a National Service Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force in the 1950s and always attended the annual AJEX (Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women) Annual Remembrance Parade and Service in Whitehall. A friend induced him to AJEX in the late 1960s and he is still an active member. Ivan says: “The core pillars of the charity are welfare, remembrance and education. Remembrance at the AJEX events at Whitehall and the National Memorial Centre is always emotive in that we think of the thousands of Jewish men and women who died in the service of their country. I find it rewarding to educate students by recounting my life as an evacuee and my time in the RAF. In this was I am making a mini contribution to our society and continuing the legacy of the charity”. Ivan also shares with students details of the contribution of Jews to the Armed Forces of whom a greater proportion served than that of the non-Jewish population. He has received many letters that made him realise how he is benefitting so many lives. www.ajex.org.uk

 

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