Working together to help the people of eastern Europe

Working together to help the people of eastern Europe

The Chief Executives of World Jewish Relief and Jewish Care explain why they're working together to help the less-fortunate in the former Soviet Union

Svetlana Voyevodkina,  (left) with her family, Alexandra (10), Timur (5), Anastasia (18), Sonja (7), Lisa (14)  and Galina (grandmother, Belarus - World Jewish Relief
Svetlana Voyevodkina, (left) with her family, Alexandra (10), Timur (5), Anastasia (18), Sonja (7), Lisa (14) and Galina (grandmother, Belarus - World Jewish Relief

The British Jewish community may be small, but it punches above its weight through the work of its communal organisations. We are blessed with many great charities; some are among the best in the country.

As chief executives of two of the largest UK Jewish charities, we are always looking at ways of working with others for the benefit of the Jewish community and beyond. We must constantly learn and evolve to ensure we can provide quality care for the people we support.

This is why World Jewish Relief and Jewish Care have joined forces on an ambitious programme to transform dementia care for Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union. The partnership, with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), brings together Jewish Care’s leading expertise as a social-care provider in the UK and World Jewish Relief’s 25 years of experience supporting vulnerable Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

Although the past decade has seen increased awareness of dementia in the UK, the situation is drastically different there. Social and medical support is extremely limited and there is a lack of public knowledge about the condition. Many older people living with dementia are either excluded by society or withdraw from social activities due to stigma and embarrassment.

Jewish people enjoy longer and better quality lives thanks to the social care support provided by organisations like Jewish Care at home and World Jewish Relief abroad. But as people live longer, we are seeing more cases of dementia. World Jewish Relief’s programmes in the former Soviet Union have tackled crippling poverty among the Jewish elderly, championed disability and provided medication to those with chronic health problems.

Dementia affects people of all backgrounds and must form part of an holistic approach. Communities in the former Soviet Union need support to cope with dementia and Jewish Care’s expertise will enhance World Jewish Relief’s work with older people in the region.

World Jewish Relief has funded Jewish Care staff to join it in planning and running seminars about dementia for homecare workers from Jewish community centres in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

The training teaches the skills needed to work with people living with dementia using a ‘person-centred’ approach, rather than treating someone merely as a patient with a diagnosis.

Feedback from the 200 participants so far has been extremely positive, with demand for more training. Local ‘dementia champions’ will transform dementia care in Jewish communities and beyond. The learning has been two-way: UK teams have offered their expertise and local staff have shared their ideas with us. We have also learned a lot about each other. As leaders of our respective organisations, our priority remains to ensure every pound we spend is on our core objectives.

But through working together, we have seen that partnerships lead to new knowledge for our charities, opening up new ways of improving lives.

Regardless of where we live, dementia poses similar challenges. Numbers are set to increase globally as life expectancy increases. Dementia overtook heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales last year.

We are proud that through our partnership, we will transform how dementia is understood in the former Soviet Union, benefiting not only Jewish communities but wider society too.

For more information contact Richard Verber, head of external affairs at World Jewish Relief, at

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