We need a Jewish voice to support the less fortunate

My great-grandfather inspired me to embrace a Judaism that strives to relieve the suffering of both our own people and of others


My great-grandfather was a rabbi in a town in southern Germany. His name was Emanuel Mayersohn and I take my middle name from him. But this isn’t a story of someone who was murdered in the Holocaust — or survived even.

His daughter, my great auntie, would tell me how on Sundays he would go walking with local Christian ministers into the hills around Rastatt, his home town. His Judaism not only resided in the synagogue, however important that was. It spread its light to those outside the community.

The memory of my great-grandfather has always inspired me to a Judaism that strives to relieve the suffering of both our own people and of others.

We are a people that have been at the forefront of injustices and we are a people that have always expressed deep compassion for others. And not just because we were ourselves once refugees — although, of course, that has had a clear effect. But because we are Jewish.

And so, while I went into the trade of my great-grandfather and became a rabbi, I always looked to connect my community with the world around. And I always looked to build relationships with communal organisations with that agenda.

Organisations such as Jcore, established in 1976 by Dr Edie Friedman. It is now moving into a new phase, enriched by our relationship with international humanitarian aid organisation Hias, which will bring only positives and opportunities to our work in the UK.

We are together passionate about making the lives of refugees here and across the world better. We are together passionate about advocating and campaigning on behalf of those who seek asylum.

We are together passionate that the Jewish voice is heard full and clear on working against racism and building community cohesion.

My aim as executive director is simple. I want to mobilise the UK Jewish community to support and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as for a society that combats all forms of racism, along with growing antisemitism. It will be collaborative, working with other Jewish and non-Jewish organisations in our sector in order to amplify our voice and deepen our profile.

Among the values we will promote, compassion, or what we call rachamim in Hebrew, is crucial. It is the basis of the desire to remove suffering. When looking at government policy anywhere in the world, outcomes need to be measured by compassion.

Any government may claim to have a moral reason for its policy. But will the results of the policy cause more suffering to those who so desperately need help?

There is also responsibility, or arvut, which is the need to try and put oneself in the shoes of the other — and to ensure that nothing we do to help our own cause is to the detriment of others.

Solidarity is equally important. None of us are complete without those around us and that goes for society as well. We have so much to learn from other religious and ethnic communities who are part of UK society.

Coming together has the potential to lower inter-communal hate.

And then there is partnership or in Hebrew, gishur. Gishur actually means “bridging”, or today, “conflict resolution” and I think that is a really helpful lens for us.

We need to bring Jewish people, especially young people, together with those from other communities who experience racism.

We can talk about how our communities experience racism, as well as the existence of racism within our communities.

These values will become a foundation for our work supporting refugees and fighting racism.

They will allow us to bring the Jewish voice to the table, whether working with other organisations in the refugee sector, building specific campaigns, or talking to MPs and other politicians. We may not be able to change the world but we can make a clear Jewish case for it!

Rabbi David Mason is executive director of Hias+Jcore

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