New director of UJIA ‘couldn’t really turn this opportunity down’

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New director of UJIA ‘couldn’t really turn this opportunity down’

Jenni Frazer speaks to London-born Emily Pater, as she takes on her newest role at one of the community's longest-established charities

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

A participant on UJIA’s Israel Bar and Bat Mitzvah Programme celebrates his Bar Mitzvah in Kiryat Bialik last month (Photo: Neil Mercer)
A participant on UJIA’s Israel Bar and Bat Mitzvah Programme celebrates his Bar Mitzvah in Kiryat Bialik last month (Photo: Neil Mercer)

“I couldn’t really turn this opportunity down”, says Emily Pater of her newest job — Israel director of UJIA.

London-born and raised, Ms Pater went to live in Israel in 2001, but decided to work in the non-profit sector rather than continue in her UK career as a lawyer. “I wanted to make some contribution to Israeli society”.

She began working for Rikma, an educational organisation that develops community leaders to strengthen existing and establish new communities in Israel.

For 18 years after that, she was managing director of JDC’s (the Joint) global resource development team, responsible for strategy, planning and operations and working closely with funders, partners and stakeholders.

“It gave me a wonderful insight into what was happening in Jewish communities around the world. But when this opportunity opened up… I was always familiar with the work of UJIA and of course I was a beneficiary of it when I lived in the UK, through youth movements, summer tour, UJS. It was too good an opportunity to join them and I do see it as my way of giving back”.

Emily Pater

The experience of the last six months, with both Britain and Israel under lockdown, has provided UJIA with “pivoting — how to provide much-needed assistance to people that UJIA are serving together with our partners, but doing it in a different kind of environment. In some cases, programmes have shifted online, providing counselling and support”.

In other cases, says Ms Pater, UJIA’s work has continued to happen “in person”, particularly in what it does to help children at risk. “We are heavily involved in the Karmiel Children’s Village. Schools closed in Israel in mid-March but there were quite a lot of children who either didn’t want to, or couldn’t, go back to their family homes. So they remained in the village and continued to receive the support services they needed”.

That, and another of UJIA’s children’s projects, received special dispensation from the Israeli government so that staff could remain on site, despite lockdown.

Ms Pater doesn’t envisage much changing now that there is to be a renewed lockdown in Israel. Instead, she says UJIA will continue to be flexible and monitor the situation with the hope that it can resume its normal programming after Succot. 

She is very aware of the fragile state of part of Israeli society. “We are spoken of as the start-up nation, but we are not a start-up nation for everyone. We have some of the highest levels of inequality and poverty in the OECD, and so for me UJIA’S work] is really about levelling that playing field. Unemployment has shot up in the wake of the pandemic, and families who were living close to the edge before, but who managed to get by — we are going to see many more in need”. 

A young resident of the Carmiel Children’s Village enjoying a day of circus skills

She is upbeat about future engagement by British Jews with UJIA, not least because the pandemic has forced online involvement. “People have the opportunity to connect with the work of UJIA without having to go to a dinner. And because we have such a long history of working in Israel, we are able to do a really good assessment of what’s wanted on the ground. And we can ensure that every penny provided is spent in the way that it should be”. 

Ms Pater, who is married with two sons and twin daughters and lives in Jerusalem, has arrived at UJIA in time for its centennial, which it is celebrating online on September 30 with a performance by musician Idan Raichel and a message from President Reuven Rivlin.

She added: “One of the things that UJIA does, and which goes to the heart of our mission, is building deep and lasting connections between UK Jews and Israel. When I look at how engaged with Israel the British Jewish community is, I’m proud of the role UJIA plays in that. Those deep connections have come into play during this crisis, allowing us to support our partners on the ground in Israel better, and keep our work with vulnerable Israelis going — even in these difficult times.”

Now, declares Emily Pater, “we need not just to survive, but thrive”.

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