Matthew Gould and his wife at Israeli cemetary 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
British Ambassador Matthew Gould on Tuesday will officially open the first of
several social clubs for Holocaust survivors, thanks to funds that he personally
raised with help from members of the Jewish community in Britain.
who will inaugurate the new club together with his wife, Celia, and Welfare and
Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon, has spent the best part of the past year
raising more than $1.5 million for the project. He plans to double that amount
in the coming year.
“This launch is the culmination of our work,” the
ambassador told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, explaining that he made public
appeals to the British Jewish community via UK media outlets. He succeeded in
partnering with religious authorities from across the spectrum, including the
Chief Rabbi’s Office, the Board of Deputies of British Jewry and Reform Jewish
authorities. Gould also drew support from the Holocaust Education Trust, various
British synagogues and individuals.
The project, which aimed to ease the
loneliness and suffering felt by many Holocaust survivors here, will see six
social and cultural centers established – in Givat Olga, the Eshkol region,
Kiryat Bialik and Migdal Ha’emek, and two in Bnei Brak. The centers will provide
programs and services for some 700 survivors.
There are an estimated
207,000 victims of Nazi atrocities in World War II living in
Gould said that he was not deterred by the government’s failure
to be an equal financial partner in this venture, pointing out that the Welfare
Ministry has come forward to provide space for the centers as well as
“When I was ringing people to get support, I was asked about
the Israeli government’s involvement in helping survivors and I explained to
people that in every country in the world, no matter how developed and rich it
might be, there is always the problem of old people being lonely,” he said. “It
is a problem across the developed world and governments are not always best
placed to tackle it.”
Gould said that while it is the responsibility of a
government to provide its citizens with certain essentials such as healthcare
and housing as they reach old age, the issue of loneliness for the elderly
“needs wider community support and involvement.”
For Holocaust survivors
the loneliness of old age was a “double tragedy,” he said.
“Not only do
they carry around the trauma and sadness of what they have experienced but when
you add to that the loneliness, its even worse,” said Gould. “I do think its
right that we do everything we can to help them.”
Welfare Minister Moshe
Kahlon also said this was the case.
“Israeli society must do all it can
to enable our heroes who survived Nazi oppression to grow old with dignity,”
Kahlon said. “We are committed to doing our duty toward Holocaust survivors who
helped build our country.”
He said that the ministry welcomed the
ambassador’s initiative and hoped that such centers would only increase in
Elazar Stern, chairman of the Foundation for the Benefit of the
Holocaust Victims in Israel, said that loneliness was one of the biggest
problems facing survivors in Israel today.
“These clubs offer a real
anchor in the lives of many of the survivors, as for many of them, this is the
only opportunity they have to get out of the house and meet people.
is an incredibly important initiative,” added Stern.
which receives 40 percent of its budget from the government and the rest from
the Conference for Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), has
found itself facing financial difficulties in recent years as the needs of
survivors grow and the available funds shrink.
According to the
organization, an estimated 50,000 survivors in Israel live below the poverty
line and close to 35 survivors die each day.
Roughly 60% of the survivors
are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived here during the 1990s
and there are still some who are not eligible for certain pension funds aimed at
helping survivors financially.
Last September, for the first time in its
16-year history, the foundation said that it had no choice but to seek financial
support from Jewish and non- Jewish communities around the world in order to
fund its programs for survivors.