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Reform communities coordinate response to migrant crisis

There was standing room only at Reform Judaism’s Monday night emergency meeting to address the migrant crisis sweeping Europe. More than 70 people from Reform communities gathered at the Sternberg Centre to discuss a coordinated response to the plight of those fleeing desperate situations in their countries of origin. An online broadcast allowed people to participate from across the country including Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Paul Anticoni, Chief Executive of World Jewish Relief addressed the gathering, attended by the Bishop of Buckingham, and pioneers on asylum issues within the Jewish community. Mr Anticoni summarised the crisis and noted that World Jewish Relief has been supporting people affected by the war in Syria since 2013.

The meeting explored different proposals from around the country, from synagogue drop-ins and shelters, to campaigns targeting local councils.

The meeting was chaired by Rabbi Mark Goldsmith of Alyth (North Western Reform Synagogue) and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism.

Nic Schlagman, Community Projects Co-ordinator at West London Synagogue and Cheryl Brodie and Debbie Rose of Alyth spoke about the work being done in their communities. The community volunteers urged others to assist with their drop-in centres for destitute asylum seekers and refugees.

The monthly drop-ins offer a hot meal, grocery vouchers, clothing, companionship and advice to asylum seekers, attendees heard.

Ben Wright, Education and Campaigns Assistant at JCORE, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, introduced his organisation’s befriending project for unaccompanied minors.

Elliot Karstadt, a member of Finchley Progressive Synagogue and a Leo Baeck College rabbinic student, described how communities can help house refugees and campaign for local authorities to commit to resettle refugees.

Robert Weiner, Chair of Reform Judaism, said the Movement would act as a conduit and share knowledge and resources with communities across the country.

All the fantastic proposals from the meeting will be brought together in one place with a dedicated space on the Reform Judaism website to help with this. There were so many ideas that came from all areas of the community and it was agreed it was important not to start new projects without acknowledging the work of the current ones. It might be that the most effective response will be to double support for those activities already taking place. Where communities want to start a new project, they will be able to access resources and see who has expertise in the area. It was agreed to meet again in three months time to see what next steps might be.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said: “The ongoing migration crisis has touched our community in the UK in a way we have not seen before. When we look across at Calais and beyond, we see ourselves. Both our Reform Jewish values and our history as refugees make a meaningful response to today’s crisis an imperative for our Movement. People are seeking practical ways to respond and it was inspiring to see so many community members eager to help.”

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