Congolese join the party to thank shul for support

By Sandy Rashty, November 1, 2012

A Congolese woman stole the show at an interfaith event at the New North London Synagogue on Sunday with a rousing rendition of Hava Nagilah.

Maman Georgette’s performance of songs familiar to Jews among the 350 crowd was a throwback to her training as a parachutist by the IDF at the time of the Six-Day War in 1967 and a year spent on kibbutz.

The day of food, theatre, music and dancing cemented the longstanding relationship between the Congolese Support Group and the Finchley Masorti congregation.The synagogue runs a drop-in centre for destitute asylum seekers and 50 per cent of its clients are Congolese.

“It was important that the Jewish community stand up for them and it’s important that the Jewish community reaches out to refugees,” said New North London’s Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.

The Congolese were delighted that the party was staged in the synagogue — “they wanted to feel welcomed by a religious community.”

Event co-ordinator Deborah Koder said it celebrated survival and demonstrated “our continuing support to the Congolese community, which had “suffered atrocities on a large scale”.

The drop-in centre currently supports more than than 300 people, offering access to doctors, lawyers and therapists and essential supplies such as food bags and nappies.

“There’s a big interfaith connection,” Ms Koder said. “We love to share our beautiful building.”

Congolese Support Group president Okito Tongomo, who came to the UK in 1997, said: “Since the rabbi condemned the killing of people in Congo and asked the authorities to look at it in the letter [from rabbis to the Guardian], we had to thank him and it all stemmed from there. It’s very exciting.”

Musician Freddy Wanga, who performed at the celebration, said: “More than six million people died in Congo but no one wants to talk about them. I thank the Jewish community for welcoming us and letting us talk about our genocide.”

The communities had previously joined forces for a Holocaust Memorial Day event. Sunday’s gathering was “about doing something happy and joyful together and not just meeting under sad circumstances”, Rabbi Wittenberg said.

Last updated: 1:50pm, November 1 2012