Last week, the first major collaboration between the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF) and World Jewish Relief (WJR), one of UK Jewry’s leading international agencies, took place. The event, Faith in Our World, aimed to highlight the importance of different faiths working together — a principal goal of TBFF. The two organisations focused on areas of mutual concern in Africa.
World Jewish Relief’s street kids programme in Rwanda — Streets Ahead Children’s Centre Association (SACCA) — is a project set up to help the thousands of orphaned children who live on the streets in Rwanda and continue to suffer the effects of the 1994 genocide. The project provides homes, education, training and emotional support for former and current street children.
The TBFF’s new Faiths Act Fellowship is a 10-month interfaith programme for 30 young people aged 18 to 25 from the UK, US and Canada. Beginning in August, it will include some exceptional young Jews who, as ambassadors for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), will raise money for and awareness of our campaign against malaria. After training in London, Africa and Chicago, the fellows will return to their home countries to work in inter-faith pairs. They will be based in religious host organisations and given the task of spreading understanding of the MDG challenge and through it, to encourage interfaith co-operation against malaria.
As change-makers for the next generation, young people of faith have a particular role to play. They have the creativity to establish new forms of inter-religious co-operation to help the most needy and vulnerable worldwide. The young Jewish “ambassadors” will therefore be making not only a tangible contribution to Africa’s development but also helping to reconfigure the contemporary image of religion.
The Jewish community has a long history of philanthropic giving and public service — both of which are central to British Jewish values and follow Deuteronomy 16:20: “Tzedek,Ttzdek,Tirdof” (Justice, Justice shall you pursue). The need to repair a broken world, Tikkun Olam, is also deeply embedded in community values and opens up a profoundly universal perspective.
I have spoken to many members of the UK Jewish community who tell me that a shift in Jewish giving is starting to occur. Organised charity in the recent past has been mainly focused on Jewish causes. Today, this charitable impulse is moving out to the wider world, with WJR among the leaders of this shift.
This is demonstrated by a number of initiatives around the world: for example the Jewish Social Action Hub (JSAH), sponsored by the Pears Foundation, works closely with organisations which serve the international community and focus on fair trade and genocide issues. JSAH will also be hosting some of our Faith Act Fellows. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Pears Foundation support international development education in Jewish schools. This is promoted by Tzedek, which works with local communities in Northern Ghana to improve schooling and access to schools. On an international scale, Tel Aviv University researches Jewish and Israeli engagement with the international development community.
This is a shift occurring across all faiths in the world, with the spread of internet and satellite news channels as key “push” factors. As Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has written: “Traditionally, our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us. What has changed is that television and the internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience.”
The message is that we cannot ignore the plight of those on the other side of the world when it stares us in the face on a daily basis. This is something that my foundation takes to its heart. Malaria, the main priority of the Faiths Act Fellows, is wholly preventable and this is why we are asking all faiths to face this challenge: “Whoever can prevent his household from committing a sin but does not, is responsible for the sins of his household; if he can prevent the people of his city, he is responsible for the sins of his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is responsible for the sins of the whole world,” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b)
Passover, which begins next week, commemorates the liberation of the Children of Israel from Egypt. It calls us all to a wider liberation of the poor from deprivation, disease and hunger. It holds a resounding message for everyone across the faiths: that we should redouble our efforts to help free those in the developing world from the slavery of poverty.