Posted: 26 April 2013

This year we did more than remember

Every year at Passover, Jews around the world are enjoined 'to look upon ourselves as if we had ourselves come forth out of Egypt'. We are meant to make the telling of our story personal so that we can empathise with our ancestors. We are meant to tell it this way so that we can feel the painful weight of their oppression, the terror in their desperate flight, the elation in their freedom, and the liberating power of our loving God.

The command to tell the story as if it were our own can also be read as a call for compassion for those who find themselves in flight today, particularly the thousands of families seeking asylum from tyranny, persecution and worse in trouble spots around the world. These teachers, pharmacists, farm labourers, civil servants, students of economics and engineering, flee with the same haste, and with as few possessions as we when we departed Egypt with uncooked dough on our backs.

Today's asylum-seekers arrive on our shores to find, not manna from heaven, but hostility. Popular misperceptions about them, their plight and their potential, promote policies that force them at once into abject poverty.

Supporting today’s refugees

For over a year, West London Synagogue has run a monthly asylum-seeker drop-in centre, where we witness the struggles that these asylum-seeking families face. Donating clothing and food to take away as well as providing a safe, dry and warm environment for children to play for a few hours and for adults to have an opportunity to seek help from our social worker and volunteer doctors—all of these are important services. 

More and more, our volunteers feel that they are just dealing with symptoms rather than tackling the cause of the problem. We have therefore decided to partner with The Children’s Society to increase pressure on the government to change legislation that forces asylum-seeker families into destitution.

So at this year’s community seders, we asked our congregants to do more than remember the Exodus. On a night when we celebrate our freedom not only from enslavement, but from want, we asked our congregants to appeal to their MP to raise greater awareness of the findings of the cross-party parliamentary inquiry supported by The Children’s Society to end mandated misery for people whose exodus echoes the many involuntary exiles we and our people have endured through the ages. 

This year's seders only marked a start for us and we hope that our cooperation with The Children’s Society will go from strength to strength in the next weeks and months and help bring about the urgent changes to the asylum support system in order to make life tenable for families who were forced to leave their homes.

By Lea Mühlstein - Guest bloggers

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