Rabbi Danny Rich
17 September 2015
On Yom Kippur afternoon, the Torah reading in all Liberal synagogues is the Holiness Code (Leviticus 19) in which congregants will hear: Lo ta-amod al dam ray’echa (verse 16).
Like all Biblical verses, it is likely that its original meaning is lost in antiquity and it has, therefore, been the subject of rabbinic interpretation.
The midrashim and Rashi reflect the majority rabbinic view that one ought not to remain indifferent or inactive when another’s life is in danger.
It was in this spirit that last Sukkot, Liberal Judaism – in partnership with Citizens UK – began its Sanctuary Campaign to persuade each local authority to agree to welcome 50 refugees under the United Nations Vulnerable Persons Scheme.
The focus of the Sanctuary Campaign was my Sukkah, which found itself outside the public library in Brixton and adjacent to the large shopping centre in Kingston.
On both occasions Jews, Christians, Muslims and others crowded into the Sukkah and invited the local council leader, who received a shiur on the Sukkot and was asked to pledge to welcome 50 refugees to the local area.
The arrival of refugees in a given area requires planning for the provision of accommodation, school places and medical practices, for example, and local people of all faiths and none began to undertake these tasks with their local authorities. It was also agreed that successful integration was vital, and Liberal synagogues offered voluntary teachers and space for basic English classes.
The tragic image of the drowned three-year-old boy, Aylan Kurdi, has suddenly awakened the efforts of all religious leaders, many politicians and much of the British public in the face of what is perhaps the greatest moral and practical challenge facing Europe in more than 50 years.
The Jewish community – with our particular experience as a “wandering people” – stands ready to provide immediate aid through the co-ordinated efforts of World Jewish Relief. I am confident that we Jews, in partnership with British society, will more than meet our obligations in the longer term.
To return to Leviticus (verse 34): “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
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