Bring­ing com­fort amid chaos

In Europe’s poor­est coun­try, WJR is help­ing im­prove the lives of thou­sands of Jews

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY DANIEL SUGARMAN

WITH SNOW piled high on ei­ther side of the road, our minibus moves slowly — the streets at times seem less like thor­ough­fares and more like small pot­holes nestling in­side larger ones.

We are in the city of Beltsy (Balti) in north­ern Moldova, where the tem­per­a­ture is hov­er­ing at around mi­nus eight. We have come to visit Se­men Mala­mud, a 71-year-old who lives in one of the grey Soviet-era apart­ment blocks hud­dled to­gether in the ice-choked town.

Mr Mala­mud greets us and in­vites us into his apart­ment. He is not a well man — he has a her­nia, gas­troin­testi­nal tract prob­lems and se­vere joint pain. His wife is at the hos­pi­tal, car­ing for her sick mother. The apart­ment is bleak and spar­tan, and we keep our coats on — with no cen­tral heat­ing, it is lit­tle warmer than out­side.

Moldova is the poor­est coun­try in Europe. Here, just a three-hour flight from the UK, Mr Mala­mud lives, along with an es­ti­mated 20,000 other Jews.

Our trip is made up of boys and girls of bar and bat­mitz­vah age, along with their par­ents, and has been or­gan­ised (cen­tre)

by World Jewish Re­lief. The char­ity works closely with 11 or­gan­i­sa­tions across Moldova to pro­vide 14 dif­fer­ent pro­grammes, pri­mar­ily but not ex­clu­sively for Jews.

A for­mer con­struc­tion en­gi­neer, Mr Mala­mud’s pen­sion is equiv­a­lent to £6 a month — not enough to cover util­ity bills, let alone food or medicine. In time, he will hope­fully be one of those helped by World Jewish Re­lief’s home re­pairs pro­gramme, which seeks to im­prove liv­ing con­di­tions for poor and el­derly Moldovan Jews.

He sur­vives, he tells us, thanks to the lo­cal Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre, which also re­ceives fund­ing from WJR.

“They give me sig­nif­i­cant help,” he says. “They gave me a food card so I could buy food, and medicine with a med­i­cal card. They also give some money to­wards elec­tric­ity and util­i­ties. From time to time we re­ceive clothes.”

WJR op­er­ates wel­fare pro­grammes, but also train­ing ini­tia­tives de­signed to help peo­ple find work op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Af­ter a trip to meet Maria Dolin­skiy, a grand­mother who is rais­ing her grand­chil­dren on her mea­gre pen­sion fol­low­ing the death of the young­sters’ par­ents, the fam­ily’s WJR case­worker tells us she was pre­vi­ously as­sisted by the pro­gramme her­self.

As a wid­owed mother-of-two who strug­gled make ends meet, she says: “It is important to have food, but it is also important when you have peo­ple who can help you psy­cho­log­i­cally and who help you not to lose your dig­nity and your con­fi­dence.

“There is no other or­gan­i­sa­tion that will help chil­dren like this,” she says of WJR.

“A child has a food card, they have ac­cess to ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and vo­ca­tional train­ing when they are still at school.”

Our tour group is based in Kishinev (Chisinau), the cap­i­tal of Moldova. Pogroms, the Holo­caust, and post-Soviet mi­gra­tion to Is­rael have left a city which once had 77 syn­a­gogues with just a small rem­nant of its Jewish pop­u­la­tion.

The Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­tre (JCC) in Kishinev is the beat­ing heart of the com­mu­nity. World Jewish Re­lief op­er­ates a pro­gramme here which aims

At home with ‘tire­less’ Maria Dolin­skiy

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