An emergency meeting on the refugee crisis, attended by more than 20 Jewish organisations, has resulted in the launch of a concerted cross-communal response to the unfolding disaster, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
Groups including major synagogue movements and the Office of the Chief Rabbi met with Board of Deputies’ senior vice president and World Jewish Relief’s campaigns manager Richard Verber, who chaired the assembly.
“The meeting brought together Jewish agencies with experience in the asylum/refugee sector together with synagogues and organisations which support local refugee services to ensure any domestic response is well-coordinated,” said Verber. “We mapped out what the Jewish community is doing and could do to support potential new refugees to the UK from Syria.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has said 20,000 Syrian refugees will come to the UK by 2020, and several synagogues have offered to open their doors as temporary night-time sanctuaries if needed, unfurling banners proclaiming ‘Refugees Welcome’.
Others have run drop-in centres or collections for asylum seekers. The group has launched a new website, supportrefugees.org.uk, providing background to the complex issues and practical ideas on how to help refugees by volunteering, donating and connecting to other campaigns.
The group is also organising a public meeting for the community to learn more about the crisis and how they can help. And leaflets are being distributed to participating synagogues for Yom Kippur to encourage congregants to get involved.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “At this time of year, as we pledge financial support to a range of causes close to our hearts, I call upon our community to dig extra deep and set aside an additional contribution, however small, which will go towards providing urgent relief for refugees whose lives have been devastated by the current crisis.
“World Jewish Relief has undertaken a humanitarian operation providing food, shelter, medicine and hygiene kits to families who are fleeing war and persecution. Let us now join together and translate our prayer into action by supporting their efforts.”
“The Jewish community, with our particular experience as a ‘wandering people,’ stands ready to provide immediate aid,” said Liberal Judaism’s Rabbi Danny Rich.
“We Jews, in partnership with British society, will more than meet our obligations.”
Rich paid tribute to the co-ordination of World Jewish Relief, whose appeal had raised around £180,000 by Wednesday.
WJR chairman James Libson told the meeting that media reports from Calais were misleading, and that the vast majority of Syrian refugees were currently in neighbouring countries. “Jordan and Turkey have taken up to three million,” he said.
“In Europe, countries on the front line such as Greece and Italy have been particularly overwhelmed.”
“The parallels with the Jewish experience in the 1930s and 1940s are driving the Jewish community’s desire to make a difference today,” added Verber.