Let all who are hungry come and eat

The refugee “crisis” in Europe has spurred many into action and there are plenty of people in our own Jewish community are eager to help those in need. JVN Director Leonie Lewis here gives her perspective on the situation and sees how now, when Passover is upon us, we should be even more aware of the need to help refugees and asylum seekers, whether Jewish or not. Read the original article on the JVN site here.

For more information on how you can volunteer to support refugees and asylum seekers, click here.

“Let all who are hungry come and eat” are words familiar to us as we celebrate the Seder night – a clarion call to reach out to those in need. The statement says all who are hungry, not just Jews who are hungry. We are thus asked to consider the wellbeing and welfare of those in our society who need our support and require basic help such as food. Additionally Pesach reminds us that we were strangers in a strange land and because of this we should become aware of others in similar situations and develop empathy towards their plight today.

Pesach talks about our journey out of Egypt, the trials and tribulations of our people on this journey, perhaps reminiscent of the horrendous journeys many refugees and migrants today have undertaken to get to safety in the UK. This year, our Seder and the Festival of our freedom is punctuated by the horrific pictures of those seeking refuge in Europe.  People hanging onto overcrowded boats; children being scooped up from rough waters; refugees living in barely habitable tents in Calais.

Many charities are trying to make a difference and charities in the Jewish community are no exception. The Jewish community is now rallying to offer help. The website supportrefugees.com is just one response, informing people how they can volunteer and or raise money. Many individuals are visiting the jungle whilst others are collecting items in response to real need.

I participated in my own community’s goods collection, where bags of sanitary items including antiseptic wipes, soaps and shampoos were donated to convoys going to France. I also visited the jungle in Calais as part of a group of faith leaders from the Faiths Forum for London and the distress of those we spoke to was heart rendering. The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) organised a particular campaign, Pants for Purim, a funny name but with a serious motive: the provision of underpants to many refugees who literally left their homes with just the clothes on their back!

Today, visual images are for most of us the instant way we see the news and share stories; for example, the image of a drowning boy and the images of refugees being refused entry into Greece were sharp and unnerving. A picture tells a thousand words – we tend to remember what we see. That’s why symbols at the Seder service are critical to our Passover story. The Seder service is experiential. We try to understand through stories and symbols, sounds and motifs, slavery and freedom, as the Passover story relived becomes our story. When we live an experience – when something becomes real to us – we can really begin to understand it and empathize and hopefully respond.

When we read about refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, we can feel for them. When we see images and hear their stories we are moved. But when we do something for them to support them we truly are letting all who are hungry eat at our tables.

Wishing all our supporters, our charities and our volunteers Pesach sameach,