Later this month is National Refugee Week. But Jews should not need a special week in order to reflect on the experiences of our own families as they fled from Nazi persecution. Millions, sadly, were not among those lucky few. This painful story of fleeing from prejudice and tyranny does not begin and end with us, nor is it the only Jewish narrative; but it does go right back through Jewish history. It is a story still recurring today.
In this country, our loved ones can sleep soundly without fear of violence and hatred. It should not be a luxury, but in too many parts of the world it is just that; not least in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 1998, the wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo have led to the deaths of over 5.4 million innocent civilians, creating more than 1.2 million refugees. Today, the Congo remains a hotbed of sexual atrocity and mass killing, yet the world continues to look away. The recent arrest of Ratko Mladic gives hope that the perpetrators of these brutal abuses in the DRC will not escape justice either.
The plight of the Congolese is an all too familiar story and one that we, the children of survivors, have a duty to champion and to challenge.
For last year's High Holy-Day appeal, Sha'arei Tzedek, North London Reform Synagogue, adopted Save the Congo, a grassroots campaign trying to bring about change in the DRC. Radlett and Bushey Reform Synagogue supported the African Refugee Development Centre in Israel, providing a lifeline to hundreds of African refugees seeking asylum in the Jewish state.
Shortly after celebrating Pesach, our festival of freedom, we were privileged to be part of a delegation of rabbis who handed in a petition to the Foreign Office, signed by 80 per cent of the Progressive rabbinate in the UK. That petition called for a lasting peace and greater pressure to be brought on the Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian authorities to ensure that their territories are not used as transit grounds for conflict minerals.
As Progressive rabbis, our voices have already reached the ears of world leaders. Were we a coalition of rabbis from every UK Jewish denomination, our message would be louder and clearer. If we spoke as the united voice of the Jewish community, we surely could not be ignored.