Let’s make it good news soon

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Richard Ver­ber

I’VE OF­TEN thought that I should start a news­pa­per which prints only good news. Heart­warm­ing sto­ries of strangers re­turn­ing lost wallets. The world’s largest cup­cake. Lot­tery win­ners do­nat­ing their mil­lions to char­ity. Oh, and pic­tures of cats. There must al­ways be pic­tures of cats. If ever there were an idea whose time had come, it’s this one. The reg­u­lar news has been se­ri­ously de­press­ing of late. I’ve not been glued to my phone this much in years. First thing in the morn­ing, last thing at night. It’s start­ing to take its toll on my eyes as well as my emo­tions.

Be­yond the tragic pic­tures com­ing out of Gaza and Is­rael, the Ukraine cri­sis is wors­en­ing. You’ve prob­a­bly seen the af­ter­math of the air­craft shot down last month, and watched in be­wil­der­ment as the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity was pre­vented ac­cess to the crash site.

But what you might not know is that due to the on­go­ing fight­ing be­tween the Ukrainian army and pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratists, some 100,000 peo­ple have been forced from their homes, seek­ing shel­ter else­where in Ukraine. En­tire fam­i­lies have been up­rooted.

We know of at least 600 who are Jewish. But for a quirk of fate, this could have been my fam­ily, had they not turned left and ended up in Eng­land. These Jews are all in need, par­tic­u­larly those who were liv­ing in poverty be­fore the cri­sis be­gan.

Of­fer­ing sup­port is com­plex as their needs are hugely var­ied. Some can­not af­ford food. Oth­ers re­quire ac­com­mo­da­tion. Many have lost their jobs.

Ye­lena, 35, fled Slo­viansk af­ter a grenade de­stroyed her house. She only sur­vived by hid­ing in the base­ment with her four-yearold son. She im­me­di­ately left the city with just her doc­u­ments and the bare ne­ces­si­ties to sur­vive.

Older Jews are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble. Sixty-year-old Natalya was forced from her home in Slo­viansk when the city be­came too danger­ous for her.

Natalya had al­ways worked in the theatre, tak­ing great pride in her role in Slo­viansk’s cul­tural life. But since May, the univer­sity, where she led the theatre stu­dio, has been closed and stu­dents haven’t com­pleted their fi­nal ex­ams.

Ar­riv­ing in Kharkov, in north­east Ukraine, she has had to start again – not easy at 60. So what can be done? Our his­tory – trag­i­cally – means we know only too well what it’s like for Jews to be forced from their homes, only tak­ing what they could carry.

World Jewish Relief’s roots go back to 1933 and the cre­ation of the Kin­der­trans­port. We were known then as the Cen­tral Bri­tish Fund for Ger­man Jewry. Thanks to peo­ple like Si­mon Marks (of Marks & Spencer fame),

At least 600 Jews in Ukraine need help

Lionel and An­thony de Roth­schild (the bank­ing broth­ers) and Chaim Weiz­mann (the fu­ture first Is­raeli pres­i­dent), thou­sands of Jewish chil­dren were res­cued from Nazioc­cu­pied Aus­tria and Ger­many.

To­day much of our work is fo­cused on the vul­ner­a­ble Jewish com­mu­ni­ties of Ukraine. We’ve had pro­grammes there since the fall of the Iron Cur­tain in 1991. We can once again pro­vide a vi­tal life­line for dis­placed peo­ple through fund­ing a re­source cen­tre in Kharkov.

On ar­rival peo­ple re­ceive food and clothes. The cen­tre helps peo­ple find ac­com­mo­da­tion. It con­nects them with job cen­tres as well as med­i­cal, le­gal and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port.

Se­cur­ing em­ploy­ment is al­ways chal­leng­ing, par­tic­u­larly with Ukraine’s econ­omy. Some busi­nesses we work with have agreed to hire dis­placed peo­ple on a sea­sonal ba­sis, even agree­ing to pay a weekly (in­stead of monthly) salary, in order to al­le­vi­ate im­me­di­ate eco­nomic con­straints.

Natalya joined our Wohl Liveli­hood Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme in Kharkov last month. It pro­vides train­ing for Jewish sin­gle moth­ers and oth­ers who are un­der­em­ployed or un­em­ployed, en­abling them to gain — and main­tain — a job. Em­ploy­ment helps them break the cy­cle of poverty for their fam­ily.

The fu­ture is un­cer­tain for Ye­lena and Natalya, and thou­sands like them. But with the right sup­port, I look for­ward to fea­tur­ing them in a fu­ture edi­tion of my good news news­pa­per. Richard Ver­ber is World Jewish Relief’s cam­paigns man­ager

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