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