Let’s help people celebrate their differences

Julia Fodor calls for care staff to go the extra mile to help
Jewish people embrace their culture.

We are living in an age of racial awareness. Local authorities
adopted equal opportunities policies years ago, social work courses
place a strong emphasis on racial issues, discrimination and

These developments are a big step towards providing culturally
sensitive services to users from different cultural and racial
backgrounds. So can we sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge
that users’ cultural needs will be understood and met?

In my view we should not become complacent. There are positive
developments, but I would urge all my social work colleagues to
strive to understand their clients’ cultural needs.

Jewish Care is Anglo-Jewry’s largest Jewish social work
organisation. It offers 69 resources and specialist services,
caring directly for almost 7,000 people every week across London
and the south east. Why is this still necessary? Most British Jews
do not look any different from the mainstream, they engage in the
country’s economic life, are known for close family relationships –
so what is the problem? Although open anti-semitism is rare,
misconceptions abound.

Jews are not all the same. There are differences in their
origin. Some are Ashkenazi, of European origin, others are
Sepharadi, originating from Spain and the Arab world. Their basic
beliefs are the same, but their customs differ. There are
differences of class and life experience, in the level of
orthodoxy, or religious observance. Some people were born here;
some fled from Nazi Europe. However, they all share a common

A typical Jewish life revolves around life events, dietary laws
and festivals. Celebrating is done within the family and the close
Jewish community, so users living alone or in non-Jewish
establishments can feel lonely and isolated.

Judaism cannot be practised in isolation, as it is a communal
experience. The provision of kosher food to an elderly client in
residential care shows goodwill to meeting cultural needs, but a
lack of understanding of the depth of their experience. Jewish
service users, especially older people, find it easier to relate to
fellow Jews who share their experiences. Therefore Jewish day
centres, residential and nursing homes are essential to their
well-being and promoting a sense of belonging.

What is the way forward? Listen carefully to your clients, check
out what is important to them. Facilitate the receipt of Jewish
services. Reminiscence will have a special meaning for your
clients, be it in a residential home or a day centre. The
celebration of Jewish festivals can become a reality with the help
of care home staff with an understanding of the Jewish way of

It is time to celebrate what all people have in common, but also
to acknowledge and celebrate our differences.

Julia Fodor is north east social work team leader for Jewish

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