We Were All Refugees Once

With the news dominated these last few weeks by the spread of the coronavirus, other important news has tended to slip under the radar. One item barely reported here in Belgium – just a few seconds of screen time – relates to changes in Turkish policy towards refugees within its own borders. The doors from Turkey to Europe are open! This change has led to the mass displacement thousands of children, women and men, and to some harrowing images of violence and hostility towards these vulnerable people at the sea and land borders between Turkey and Greece and elsewhere.


The coronavirus is still crowding the stage and these refugees – and others across the globe - seeking and deserving safety and security are no longer the focus of media attention. All the more reason to do something about it at IJC. On March 20/21, the IJC and HIAS are organising a Refugee Shabbaton, a full Shabbat dedicated to refugees. On Friday 20 we will use a special prayer before lighting our Shabbat candles, and ask God to spread God’s Sukkat Shalom over us all and in particular over refugee children.

After a welcome cup of tea or coffee, we will begin Shabbat morning with a special prayer service in which all can participate and then turn our attention to some biblical imperatives about the way we as Jews are called to respond to those who are displaced and vulnerable. We were all once refugees! The remainder of the day will provide opportunities to hear the stories of IJC members with their own refugee family history, to meet with recent refugees seeking to establish a home in Belgium and to hear their stories.

We will learn about the work of HIAS from the director of its new Brussels office, and about the work of organisations like Convivial (Mouvement d'insertion des réfugiés) and the Vienna NGO Shalom Alaikum (by video link). We will have the opportunity to share the personal experience of individuals who dedicate their time and energy to working with refugees in Brussels, and we will conclude with a reflection on how we can engage with refugees as a community. I hope to see you there in large numbers!

Brian Doyle

IJC Rabbinical Intern