Campaigns to help refugees growing


The Jewish community's response to the refugee crisis expanded this week, with the announcement of plans for a public meeting to canvas opinion on the most productive ways to help.

More than £180,000 has been raised in the past week by World Jewish Relief's appeal to help Syrian refugees.

A website is also to be set up to inform British Jews how to volunteer and donate money and items to the ongoing aid efforts.

In a statement on Wednesday, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis praised the WJR campaign and said: "At this time of year, as we pledge financial support to a range of causes close to our hearts, I call upon our community to dig extra deep and set aside an additional contribution, however small, which will go towards providing urgent relief for refugees whose lives have been devastated by the current crisis."

The Board of Deputies said it would host a public meeting in response to the crisis. The announcement came after a closed meeting last Thursday for religious movements, charities and other bodies to discuss cross-communal aid efforts.

Representatives of the United Synagogue, Masorti, Reform, and Liberal movements attended the session, as did human-rights charity René Cassin, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (Jcore), and the Jewish Leadership Council.

The Board's senior vice-president, Richard Verber, said: "A public meeting is the best way to update people on what we want to do and it will be a chance for them to feed into that."

The public meeting will take place after the High Holy Days.

Communal leaders agreed to set up a website - - that "will be a one-stop shop for the community to get information about how they can assist in the crisis". It will include sections dedicated to aid efforts, donations and volunteering.

Mr Verber said: "The public meeting will allow people in the community to get involved, share ideas and ask questions, and that will then feed back into the website."

Liberal Jewish communities around the UK spent Rosh Hashanah welcoming and supporting refugees.

Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue is working with churches in the area to act as a hub for donations. Members are being asked to bring sleeping bags, winter clothing, and tents, to be sent via West London Synagogue's drop-in centre to those in need of shelter.

South London Liberal Synagogue is collecting items to go to Calais in October, as well as appealing for people to provide rooms for refugees or to take in children.

Leaders of Britain's Charedi community urged David Cameron to do more to help Syrian refugees.

Orthodox social action charities Interlink and Agudas Yisroel, as well as rabbis from the North London Muslim Jewish Forum, welcomed the Prime Minister's commitment for the UK to take in 20,000 refugees from camps over the next five years.

But in a letter to Mr Cameron, the groups added: "We would strongly support further initiatives addressing the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes."

Mr Cameron has appointed Jewish Watford MP Richard Harrington as the minister to lead the government's response. He will be responsible for co-ordinating the arrival of 4,000 Syrian refugees a year until 2020.

Edie Friedman, Jcore director, was one of 150 Jews who took part in a wider demonstration in central London in solidarity with refugees at the weekend. Protesters carried signs declaring "Jews welcome refugees".

The group included members from youth movements including Noam, RSY-Netzer and BBYO.

Yael Shafritz said the Jewish marchers wanted to send "a clear signal to the leaders of Jewish communal organisations, that young people desire strong action, beyond just humanitarian aid. We want political activism."

Ms Friedman said that while it was important to show "solidarity with refugees at demonstrations, we must not lose focus that we have asylum seekers already in this country who need our help. There are people here already who have fled horrific lives and we must continue to campaign for their rights."

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