The 75th anniversary of VE Day was made extra special for 250 older residents of Leeds Jewish Housing Association (LJHA) when they received bumper gift boxes to mark the occasion.
Teenagers across the local community in north Leeds worked together to assemble the individual packages which a contained a full afternoon tea including cake, scones and sandwiches, together with crosswords, word searches, poems, flags and a letter from the volunteers themselves – all with a VE Day theme.
These were then personally delivered by the young people following strict social distancing rules.
One recipient was 94-year-old Gilly Rawson, a Holocaust survivor.
At the age of 13, she was one of the Kindertransport children taken from Vienna to Liverpool to escape Nazi persecution.
Her late husband also travelled on the Kindertransport scheme from Gdańsk, and later served with the Royal Air Force in Burma.
Mrs Rawson has lived in her LJHA flat in Moortown for four years and has not been able to go outside for almost two months because of shielding.
She said: “The War was a terrible thing and everybody should know about it.
Praising the efforts of the volunteers, she added: “I think it’s absolutely wonderful for young people to do this for old people, particularly on the 75th anniversary of VE Day.”
Evie, one of the volunteers, said: “As a community, the elderly always looked after us when we were younger. It’s now our turn to look after them.
“As many are quite vulnerable and sometimes lonely, it’s good that we can help them in these difficult times.”
Rafi, who also packed and delivered the boxes, said: “To be honest, I did not know much at all about VE Day. But I did some research, found out all about it and it’s really special.”
Jacob, another volunteer, revealed what was in the correspondence written by the young people to residents.
He said: “The letter explains the importance of VE Day, how we should remember it and what it means to us to put the packages together.”
With the Jewish Sabbath commencing on a Friday evening but with synagogues closed because of coronavirus, the day ended with a special service held in the courtyard of Skyte House, a LJHA sheltered housing scheme.
Led by Cantor Albie Chait of United Hebrew Congregation, some residents were able to watch from their balconies, whilst others tuned into a live broadcast on the Leeds Jewish Community Facebook page with over 3,000 followers.
Craig Simons, LJHA Director of Operations, said it was one of the proudest days in the housing association’s 66-year history.
He commented: “Whilst the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe is a cause for celebration, it is also a moment to remember the millions of lives lost and the deep suffering inflicted on so many of those who survived.
“These horrors have been carried for a lifetime by some Leeds Jewish Housing Association residents.
“Our young volunteers did a wonderful job in making this year’s VE Day commemorations so inspiring.
“The are a great credit to themselves and a wonderful reflection on the warmth and vibrancy in the local community.”
Jayne Wynick, LJHA Chair, added: “‘I just was so touched by the whole community coming together to support our Sheltered residents to help commemorate and celebrate this important day.
“As one of the viewers of the special VE Day ceremony, held in one of LJHA’s gardens, I was moved that we could be with our residents for this very special moment.
“My thanks go to the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) for their generosity, and to Craig Simons, our Director of Operations, and his team together with the volunteers for their wonderful work in making this very special day happen.”