In March 2020, IJC was looking forward to a Shabbaton, a full Shabbat dedicated to the issue of refugees in response to the call from HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) to set aside one Shabbat every year to focus on this ongoing plague, and to remember that we were all refugees once. We had planned a full day of study, prayer and presentations, linking online with groups in other European cities who work directly with refugees and the immigrant community, and exploring what IJC’s response might be at the local level. Refugees who have made the perilous journey from a hostile homeland to Belgium were scheduled to share their experience. Corona forced us to postpone this event.
Fast forward to March 20th 2021 and our Refugee Shabbat 2.0! Aware that a full day Shabbaton on Zoom might stretch our screen capacity a little too much, we opted, together with the HIAS Brussels office and the EUPJ Brussels office, to divide the event. An alternative Shabbat Shacharit organized by IJC filled our Saturday morning with special prayers and presentations from refugees now settled in Belgium and, Ugur Tok, Director of the Brussels based Platform for Peace and Justice which works particularly with Turkish refugees fleeing oppression in their own land. Seyit Ecerli, now a student in Brussels, shared his thrilling story of arrest and escape, and Marty Eisenstein drew our attention to the psychological trauma many refugees carry with them, even years after they have found refuge in a safe(er) environment (see his contribution to this month’s Newsletter).
The morning programme was joined by IJC members and others from across Europe. We were delighted to welcome the EUPJ’s chair Sonja Geuntner and former chair and now vice-president Miriam Kramer. On Sunday 21st a well-attended afternoon webinar organized by HIAS and the EUPJ Brussels office asked the question: How Can European Jewish Communities Engage in Refugee Assistance? The webinar featured Jewish activists and experts from around Europe, and discussed how individual Jewish groups might approach the issue of refugees and asylum seekers locally in their respective communities, possibly as part of a wider social justice agenda.
Brian Doyle-Du Breuil
IJC Rabbinical Intern