Today my wife Celia, my daughter Rachel and I are going to the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Bialik, where we will be opening a social club for Holocaust survivors. It is not one of the regular duties of an ambassador, but it is part of a project that we really care about. But one important member of my family will be missing.
When we came to Israel, we were determined to do something to help Holocaust survivors. We talked to many of them, to the organizations dedicated to looking after them, and to the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, to find out how we could best help. It became clear that one serious problem survivors had was loneliness. Too many of them had no friends or family to look after them, or were stuck in their homes.
This is too sad for words. It is tragic enough when any elderly person lives out their days alone. But when that person has to carry alone the memories and traumas of the Holocaust, then it is a double tragedy, and a double injustice. The very least we owe survivors is that they should live in comfort and dignity, and that we should do everything possible to give their lives a measure of joy.
So we made an appeal to the U.K. Jewish community. Thanks to its generosity, we have raised £1.5 million ($2.4 million) so far, which is going to pay for a network of 18 clubs around the country, to be located where there is the most acute need. We are calling each club Café Brittania, to mark the link with Britain. The clubs are run by our partners, the Foundation for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors, working closely with the Joint Distribution Committee and the Welfare and Social Services Ministry.
The clubs provide a place where the survivors can go once or twice a week, where they can be with others who have been through what they have been through, where there are activities organized for them, where volunteers look after them, and where they can access all the services to which they are entitled.
In every club we visit, the survivors tell us how happy they are to have this place. In Givat Olga, one lady told me that it was "heaven" for her.
For the survivors, the clubs are a way of calming their biggest fear — that their stories will be forgotten when they are gone, and that people will stop believing that the Holocaust was real. I remember at the opening of one of our clubs, a survivor asked to say just a few words of welcome. In front of all the crowd and all the dignitaries, she started telling her story, and could not stop, pleading with us to believe her. The club is a place where she knows that people believe her, understand her and respect her.
Raising money for and opening these clubs is not the normal diplomatic role. But for us, it is an integral part of our mission to Israel. For us, it's personal. It is a link between Britain's Jewish community and Israel that makes a real difference to literally hundreds and hundreds of lives.
And it is a way for me to remember my grandfather, who came from Warsaw in the 1920s, leaving behind brothers and sisters, who perished along with their families. He never stopped grieving for them. He died many years before I came here, so he never got to see me as the ambassador of the country that gave him refuge to the country that is the homeland of the Jewish people. He never got to see me open a network of social clubs for Holocaust survivors. I hope he would have been proud of what we have done.
Matthew Gould is the British ambassador to Israel.