By Amanda Bowman
Many people in the Jewish community came to the UK as frightened and vulnerable young children – some on the Kindertransport – and were welcomed into this country. Perhaps for that reason, our community expect that other communities who are in need receive the same treatment.
As the group concerned with social action on the Board of Deputies, The Board of Deputies Social Action group (BoDSA) wants to play its part in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. For example, it was at BoDSA’s suggestion that President Jonathan Arkush recently wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, outlining serious concerns at the Government’s ending of the Dubs amendment scheme to admit child refugees. In 2016, BoDSA hosted an event in Parliament with speakers including Yvette Cooper, who paid tribute to the Jewish community’s efforts on refugee crisis.
BoDSA are proud of the Jewish community’s activism in this space. The breadth of this work can be seen on the Support Refugees website, which was set up and is managed by The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) and West London Synagogue of British Jews. British Jews’ commitment to this work is also exemplified by some excellent drop-ins for asylum seekers and refugees, including those at West London Synagogue, New London Synagogue, New North London Synagogue, and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue.
BoDSA are now exploring further ways that members of our community can assist refugees themselves, by offering spare rooms through charities such as Refugees at Home and Homes for Syrians. Community member Matt Wolf has spoken to BoDSA about his experience of being such a host. He says:
“I had the good fortune for the better part of six months earlier this year of hosting in the flat above me Abd Almoustafa, who is a Syrian refugee whom I met through the Homes for Syrians charity. While there is no doubt that, when we first met, Abd and I were jointly taking a punt on one another – he knew even less about me than I knew about him – his stay ended up being a complete joy and the basis for a friendship that continues to be strong, even though he has since moved on to other accommodation.
“I can say, hand on heart, that I have never in a decade or more of renting out my upstairs flat had a tenant who treated it with such care and concern. When the time came for him to hand the flat back to me at the end of his stay, he delivered it up in absolutely spotless and shining condition.
“I might add that this may not be the end of his occupancy of the same flat. He is hopeful about bringing across from Syria his wife and young son before too long, and I have said that they must all stay upstairs as and when that happens, simply because I cannot imagine better, more appreciative and – most importantly – kinder tenants. Abd is someone, who long ago crossed over from tenant into the category of lifelong friend.”
This article recently appeared in The Guardian telling the story of a young man who has been fostered by a Jewish family and we have also recently heard about a wonderful coffee morning for Syrian refugees, hosted by Finchley Progressive Synagogue. In an extract from a piece first published in Finchley Reform Synagogue magazine, Vicky Levy writes:
“I have been volunteering at the Coffee Club, which has been recently set up to host eleven Syrian refugee families now living in Barnet. This is a multi-faith project, staffed by Jewish, Christian and Quaker volunteers. Many of the Jewish volunteers are members of Finchley Reform Synagogue and it takes place fortnightly, on Friday mornings, at Finchley Progressive Synagogue.
“There is an air of great excitement as the families and their young children arrive around 10am, often bearing traditional homemade Syrian sweetmeats. The mood is lighter than I expected. I thought it might be more sombre, perhaps reflecting the families’ dramatic journeys. Instead I just sense a feeling of gratitude at being welcomed into a safe and friendly environment.
“There is a crèche for babies run by two dedicated leaders provided by the Borough of Barnet. The toy library brims over with donations from the local community and businesses. Rails and tables are set up with women’s, men’s and children’s clothing. Nappies, prams and other baby equipment are also on offer. Ofra, a volunteer musician, leads games and teaches simple songs, to help with language learning.”
For more information about offering a spare room to a refugee, please visit: http://www.refugeesathome.org/
For further information about the coffee morning at Finchley Progressive Synagogue, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org