How Can I Help?

Category: Uncatagorised

This is a question that so often comes up, whether it’s in relation to a Mitzvah Day project or generally as events unfold around the world. Although we’re always happy to answer any questions, we’re a pretty chatty team, here are some of the things we have learned and best practice recommendations when responding to rapidly evolving situations.

Doctors have the phrase- do no harm, from the Hippocratic Oath and it’s one that has always resonated strongly with me, partly because I’ve always loved a medical drama (it began with ER, followed by Grey’s Anatomy and New Amsterdam) so it’s a phrase I’ve always wondered about and how it can apply when you have zero medical expertise. Here at Mitzvah Day, we are always focussed on what is real, what will truly make a real difference, serves real needs, and is wanted by our charity partners.

We’ve learnt to be guided by the experts and to ask what they need and then most importantly really listen to the answer.

In a recent call, convened by the Jewish Leadership Council alongside over 20 Jewish organisations including charities, synagogues and more, we discussed how the Jewish community can respond to the devastating war in Ukraine and the millions of displaced people fleeing their homes and seeking refuge. Guided by advice from World Jewish Relief and experience from the response to supporting Afghan Refugees one of our biggest takeaways reaffirmed our approach in asking and listening.

Although Mitzvah Day never asks for your money, in situations of humanitarian crisis the best thing we can do is support organisations that have the links to local communities and partners on the ground, World Jewish Relief, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Disasters Emergency Committee  are best placed to identify and support immediate needs locally.

Mitzvah Day loves a collection as you well know but, in a crisis, recommendations are generally that collections of items are not helpful. These need to be sorted for quality control, organised into boxes and then schlepped across borders which can take a lot more charity time and effort than simply being able to buy items locally, as well as supporting the economy in countries that are welcoming refugees. Sometimes these items if not fit for purpose can even end up in landfill. To read more about this click here for a blog from Hannah Gaventa, former Mitzvah Day staff and now Portfolio Manager at Palladium with extensive experience in responding to humanitarian crises around the world.

Once refugees arrive in the UK, we will need to respond to clear specific asks and to work directly with local councils who will be involved in arranging housing and local refugee charities for example New Citizens Gateway in Barnet.  

One of the things we found with Afghan refugees was the request for items such as prayer mats and books and head scarves. Although these items weren’t originally being collected swift action in response to this ask led to items being donated that were deeply needed to ensure spiritual needs were being met, demonstrating how important it is to ensure we listen to recipients and are culturally appropriate and respectful.

Welcoming and befriending refugees doesn’t begin and end with those fleeing Ukraine, here in the UK we already have a great number of refugees and charities working to support and integrate people who have fled their homes for many reasons. These charities often offer language classes, direct to services, act as advocates, and generally befriend and introduce people to their local area, for example in Westminster Befriend a Family are looking for mentors.

If you’d like to give your time to support refugees in your local area this is a great way to get involved now and in the future.

Mitzvah Day are so proud that the Jewish community is leading the way galvanising support connected to the Homes for Ukraine programme. This is a big commitment, and we urge anyone offering their home to think seriously about this before registering with World Jewish Relief and the Government and commend all those who have already stepped forward.

Lastly, I’d like to reiterate the need to wait, listen then act. Until Ukrainian refugees arrive here in the UK, we don’t know what they need, we must ask them first and then act. Let us not forgot the many refugees already here on our doorstep that would so deeply appreciate our support now.

As we can see the war is not one which will be resolved overnight, and the destruction, heartbreak and trauma will be long lasting. We must continue to consider the short-term, medium and long-term requests and support that we as a community are so well equipped to tackle with our generosity of spirit and tenacity. 

The Mitzvah Day team will continue to monitor the situation closely and determine how we can continue to support refugees currently in the UK and the expected Ukrainian refugees. If you would like to get involved, please email info@mitzvahday.org.uk so we can direct you to organisations in your local area to support.