Future history books will mark 2022 as the year of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but I hope they will also record the remarkable response of people around the world, including Britain and certainly those from Reform synagogues.
What an amazing contrast it has been: the cruelty barbarism of the Russian invasion compared to the outpouring of compassion and kindness here.
For many Reform Jews it immediately brought back thoughts of the kindertransport, when British people opened their arms to 10,000 Jewish children fleeing Europe. We instinctively wanted to replicate that with Ukrainetransport, save that there would be no limit on numbers and to include adults too. For other Reform Jews, it was simply a matter of Jewish ethics and helping people in need.
The most extraordinary aspect was that so many potential hosts were thinking ahead to the best type of help they could provide. For instance, one woman wrote saying: “My husband and I are elderly now and he has health problems with his kidneys, with the result that he needs dialysis three times a week”.
I thought she was about to write: “so I cannot help, but wanted to wish you well”. Instead, she wrote: “so please send, if you can, someone with a similar problem, as I know how to look after them, and I can take both them and my husband to dialysis at the same time”.
There have also been MRJ members who cannot offer hospitality, but who are helping in other ways, such as giving lifts, helping fill in forms, arranging outside visits, or giving job opportunities.
What has been particularly useful is donating bicycles, enabling the guests to have some independence, be it to go shopping or travel to work, as well as relieve hosts of chauffeuring. It has helped Ludmilla, for instance, who came to Maidenhead from Harkiv a month ago with her two children, although her husband stayed in Ukraine to be part of the war effort.
Synagogues have also leapt into action, either organising one-off events and fund-raising, or holding on-going activities, such as the West London & Wimbledon associated charity, Refugees at Home, Finchley Reform’s drop-in centre or Maidenhead’s English lessons classes. Maidenhead have also set up a national website in both English and Ukrainian giving a wealth of practical information for hosts and guests: http://www.openarms.charity
Throughout this crisis, MRJ communities and individuals have shown that “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19.18) is not just a great soundbite, but a call to action.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain