By Alice Alphandary
“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” At this time of year, we start to look towards Pesach which remembers the Jews’ enslavement in Egypt and remembers their subsequent freedom.
It seems that much of the festival focuses on celebrating our freedom and the realisation of God’s promise to the children of Israel. This is right, given it is such a seminal moment in our history. But I also think it is important to remember the Israelites’ enslavement and use it as a call to action to help others who are in some way oppressed.
I took this quite literally by becoming part of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE)’s scheme for befriending young unaccompanied asylum seekers.
These young people are here without any family and have often left traumatic places, such as conflict zones, or are victims of trafficking, so are both vulnerable and at risk of feeling isolated.
After a day’s training, you are introduced to them and given a small budget to plan activities.
Since then, I have been meeting Mai (not her real name) fortnightly. Sometimes we meet up for a hot chocolate and a chat, other times we go to food markets (you’re matched on common interests) and recently we went to Chinatown for the Chinese new year. I’ve really enjoyed watching her confidence grow and learning about her home country.
I would encourage anyone reading this to think about how they can make a difference in the lives of anyone considered in some way oppressed. A previous chairman of my synagogue used to talk about the dangers of ‘slacktivism,’ where you give money to good causes, without donating any of your time.
While we lead busy lives, volunteering has really enriched my life. We also saw this year that Mitzvah Day has been rebranded Mitzvah Day 365 to emphasise that performing mitzvot isn’t just seen as a ‘once a year’ thing. So get involved – other people need you!
• Alice Alphandary is chairman of South London Liberal Synagogue. To find out more about JCORE’s befriending scheme, visit www.jcore.org.uk