With the onset of the New Year, the on-going march of religious extremists in the Middle East looms large and casts a shadow over the year ahead. In Syria tens of thousands of people have been killed, and more than six million people displaced, half of them children. While hundreds of thousands find themselves pressed into crowded refugee camps, increasing numbers of refugees are intent on getting out of the region to Europe, risking their lives as they make their escape in the hope of finding refuge and security elsewhere.

We have witnessed it all on our TVs, tablets and smartphones – not least, the shocking and distressing scenes of people drowning in the Mediterranean. We have also seen the differing responses of the various nations of Europe and listened to the debates about ‘economic migrants’ and ‘refugees’, conscious that desperation unites all those who flee. In this atmosphere, ‘Refugees are Welcome’ has become a new rallying cry across the world.[1]

A number of agencies are responding to the crisis: Médecins Sans Frontières   have three rescue ships in the Mediterranean. Help Calais  are sending the donations they are collecting to refugees all across Europe. In addition, other organisations continue to support refugees. Asylum Aid  provide free legal advice and representation to refugees and asylum-seekers seeking refuge from persecution in the UK, and campaigns for their fair treatment. Refugee Action  provide free legal advice to rough sleeping migrants in London, create safe havens for female refugees, and help refugees at risk of homelessness. The Refugee Council  provide practical support and advice to refugees in the UK. The Refugee Support Network  supports young refugees in the UK by providing education and mentoring.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community in Britain has also been galvanising support for refugees. The Jewish Council for Racial Equality  (JCORE),[2] ‘the leading Jewish voice on race and equality’ for many years, has been campaigning for and providing direct support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. René Cassin , the Jewish voice on human rights’ promotes and protects universal human rights. [3] Both organisations have been calling on the British government to take in more refugees​. On September 4 2015, World Jewish Relief launched a cross-communal Refugee Crisis Appeal[4] with the support of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Federation of Synagogues, JCORE, the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), JW3, the London Jewish Community Centre, Liberal Judaism, the London Jewish Forum, Masorti Judaism, the Movement for Reform Judaism, the Office of the Chief Rabbi, The Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community, Tzedek (Jewish Action for a Just World), the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), the United Synagogue and the Zionist Youth Council (which includes representation from all the Jewish youth movements). Tzelem, the Rabbinic Call for Social and Economic Justice in the UK, launched last year, whose members include rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, has also lent its support to the JWR Refugee Crisis Appeal. Rabbi Danny Rich, Senior Rabbi & Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism said: “The current migration crisis is, in my view, perhaps the greatest moral challenge to face Europe for a generation. World Jewish Relief will lead the immediate response of the Jewish Community, and I trust, using our unique experience, the community will follow through.”

Locally, the Sussex Jewish Representative Council (SJRC) has offered to collect donations from across the Jewish community for the WJR Refugee Crisis Appeal. The BHPS Council has agreed to support this initiative. Donations will be collected by the Community Renewal Fund under the auspices of SJRC and sent directly to World Jewish Relief. Donations can be made to ‘Community Renewal’, and sent to Mrs B Sharpe by BACS Sort Code: 30-91-25 A/C 01955846.

On Yom Kippur morning, the haftarah reading from Isaiah challenged us “… to release the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage , to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke… to share your bread with the hungry and to bring the destitute poor into your homes…” (Isaiah 58:6-7). With the arrival of Sukkot, the Festival that recalls our ancestors’ experience of living in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt and sleeping under the stars for forty years, (Leviticus 23:42), the challenge before us is intensified. At Sukkot, the fragile sukkah, open to the elements, reminds us of our responsibility to respond to the needs of those experiencing persecution, poverty, homelessness, hardship and humiliation, in particular, refugees.

As the children and grandchildren and descendants of refugees, aware of our sacred obligations towards the stranger, let us be among those who open our hearts and our hands to welcome those in need of refuge, and resolve to do what we can to contribute to the alleviation of their suffering.

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah

Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue

24th September 2015 / 11 Tishri 5776

  1. www.refugees-welcome.net/
  2. www.jcore.org.uk
  3. www.renecassin.org Rene Cassin (1889-1976) was a French jurist, professor of law and judge. He founded the International Institute of Human Rights and was involved in drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.
  4. www.worldjewishrelief.org/news/world-jewish-relief-launches-refugee-crisis-appeal/