A conversation between Jewish Museum London & Annie Levy, Campaigns and Communications Manager, World Jewish Relief
Museum: Tell us a little about World Jewish Relief
Annie: World Jewish Relief is the Jewish community’s humanitarian agency. We were founded in 1933 to rescue Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe and help them to build new lives both in the UK and elsewhere. It’s our 90th anniversary this year and we’re inspired by our history, inspired by our Jewish values, and remain a vessel for the Jewish community to channel their support for those who are in crisis around the world. Our impact is both global and local. Today we work in 19 disaster affected countries and 23 towns across the UK: everywhere from the frontlines of conflict in eastern Ukraine to Afghan refugees arriving in Bradford, to climate migrants in Nepal or Bangladesh
Museum: What types of activities do you do in the UK?
Annie: The majority of our UK work is with recently arrived refugees. Our STEP programme supporting refugees into employment has been running since 2016 and has included tailored support for Syrians, Afghans and most recently, Ukrainians. We work through local NGO partners such as the Refugee Council, local City Councils such as Coventry or Bristol and Local Authorities like Barnet. Together we provide tailored one to one employment and language support, helping people gain the tools to build independent lives and find work here. Our partners are incredibly important to us as they know the community they’re working in; for example we have an Employment Advisor sitting in Coventry City Council’s team alongside their integration team, so that they’re also very much involved in local processes.
Museum: Jewish Values are a big part of your work. Are people surprised to discover you work with a range of communities?
Annie: Some automatically associate us with vulnerable Jewish communities in eastern European countries including Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus, in particular the Survivor generation. That work is absolutely fundamental to what we do and we’ll always be there for those communities. But yes, people are sometimes surprised to hear about the breadth of our work – that a Jewish organisation is working with refugees in Colombia or in Pakistan with flood victims. Similarly, there are people who are surprised to discover as a global humanitarian agency, we also work with older Jewish people in Eastern Europe, providing companionship and a place for them to express their Jewish identity and gather for Shabbat. In that respect I think we’re unique.
We see it all as part of the one mission to alleviate vulnerability and to help people in crisis, and a Jewish imperative to support people whether or not they’re Jewish.
Selecting an object
Museum: Which items have you decided to display?
Annie: I’ll start with the watermelon seeds which represent our livelihoods work with farmers in East Africa. This area of work began in the early 2000s. In Rwanda, the genocide affected a younger generation who’ve experienced trauma and intergenerational trauma, and many of whom lost parents. As an organisation, that really resonated with us reflecting our work following the Holocaust, supporting young people to rehabilitate and rebuild lives for themselves in the aftermath of an unimaginable tragedy. At first we worked with orphaned street children, then later, as that generation became young adults, World Jewish Relief began helping them to find and maintain sustainable employment and live independent lives.
Farming is the largest sector in Rwanda. We help people generate as much income and profit from their land as they can. This happens through building cooperatives and bringing farmers together to invest jointly in their land, as well as through training, mentorship and psychological support.
The watermelon seeds symbolise that process. It’s also a reminder to think about where our food comes from, and how it might be a tool to alleviating poverty for someone somewhere else around the world.
The certificate represents our support to refugees in the UK. If you look at our history, there’s a golden thread running from the 1930s, 40s and 50s to the work we do today. Back then, we were instrumental in bringing over and helping to rehabilitate children on the Kindertransport, a group of young survivors known as ‘The Boys’, and the other waves of Jewish refugees.
Language and employment have been central to that story; giving people the skills to be able to communicate and build a life for themselves and ultimately to be independent. A job offers integration, community, a social life, self-actualization, and dignity. Language is fundamental to that process and the key to employment.
We’re recognised as a leader in this area and this certificate represents our award-winning Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP). STEP runs in 23 locations nationwide and is the largest provider of employment support to refugees in the UK. It’s a holistic programme supporting over 1,500 people every year with everything from skills training to CV building, connecting them with volunteer and work experience opportunities, and offering career mentorship. The certificate really represents celebrating success, milestones, and people overcoming terrible situations to build a new future.
The food package symbolises the lifesaving support that we offer people who are in times of crisis. We help communities to prepare for disaster, their survival in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, and longer-term recovery, helping people to find work again, rebuild their lives and recover psychologically.
Sometimes they’re climate related disasters such as drought and extreme weather, and other times manmade disasters, like conflict, war and persecution. Food is one of the most fundamental parts of our response. A food package will look different depending on where the community is, as it’s based on an area’s staple food, so it could be bread based, potato based or rice based.
However, it’s also about dignity. In some of the packages provided to Ukrainians we included chocolate bars so families could give their children something nice. These small things can have a big impact. During a disaster we also provide hygiene and sanitation items, mental health support and shelter. This is just one item that encapsulates all of that.
For more information visit: www.worldjewishrelief.org