Progressively Speaking: Why we must welcome refugees this Succot
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Progressively Speaking: Why we must welcome refugees this Succot

 Rabbi Rebecca Birk takes a topical issue, refugees, and offers a progressive take

Refugees welcome sign
Refugees welcome sign

“You shall dwell in booths for seven days… that your generations may know that I made the Children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

This Torah verse is the basis for our annual building of a succh, whether large or small, each Succot. But, more than that, it calls us to an empathy that lies at the heart of this festival.

The rabbis of the Mishnah tell us: “All of the seven days of Succot a person should make their succah into their fixed residence and their house into their temporary residence.” 

How can succah, and the idea of shelters impermanent and fragile, not evoke in us all a remembrance of our own journeys – of how many of our ancestors fled to Britain to escape persecution, pogroms and the Holocaust? That in turn also makes us think of the journeys of others. Those fleeing terror and war today without permanent homes for themselves and their families. The frailty of the succah must direct us to think of the frailest among humanity. Right now, according to the UN, up to 500,000 people are trying to flee Afghanistan to escape threats of persecution and death from the Taliban.

Some will be arriving in the UK. It is our duty to welcome them this Succot and use our platform to encourage Britain’s leaders to do more.

Six years ago, at Finchley Progressive Synagogue, we held a Sanctuary Succot, where we pleaded for the Borough of Barnet to accept 15 Syrian refugee families. A coalition had secured possible homes, school places and primary health care. Emboldened by our own succah and the warmth of our members and guests, we asked the question. A year later, 15 families were settled around Finchley. What about this year?

Jewish News has backed a campaign to support children coming from Afghanistan, like so many of our own came to Britain.

One month after Kristallnacht in 1938, the British government agreed to accept children from Germany and Nazi-occupied states. Jews, Quakers and other Christian groups coalesced, enabling these children to leave – among them Diana King, Rabbi John Rayner, Sir Eric Reich, Rabbi Harry Jacobi and Lord (Alf) Dubs.

All grew up as British citizens and contributed so profoundly to our national life. Now we can help others to do the same.

  •  Rabbi Rebecca Birk serves Finchley Progressive Synagogue

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