William Echikson
William Echikson

Europe’s Progressive Jews Learn to Help Refugees

As Passover and its story of wandering and freedom approaches, it’s appropriate to think of today’s refugees – the 80 million people around the world who have fled their homes due to persecution and violence.

The European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) teamed up with HIAS to sponsor a Refugee Shabbat and a webinar dedicated to how European Jews can help refugees. HIAS, founded more than a century ago in New York to help Jews fleeing Europe, has opened an office in Brussels.

The webinar featured Jewish activists from around Europe who shared their experiences and learning.

From Vienna, Sonia Feiger recounted how she formed Shalom Alaikum, which collects and distributes clothing and other items for refugees.

From Brussels, Stephanie Lecesne explained how she engaged with mostly Muslim refugees.

From Amsterdam, Chantal Suissa-Runne outlined her pathbreaking “Getting to Know Your Neighbor” program, which hosts half-day visits with local school children to the Dutch city’s Progressive synagogue.

And from Rome, Giorgio Gomel of Beth Hillel detailed how his Progressive community sponsored and mentored refugees, while from Milan, the Vice President of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, Giorgio Mortara, spoke of Jewish assistance in Northern Italy.

Listen and learn. If you are interested in adopting any of these programs in your community, please reach out to the HIAS Europe Director, Ilan Cohn: ilan.cohn@hias.org.

About the Author
William Echikson is the director of the Brussels office of the European Union of Progressive Judaism. Before joining the EUPJ, Mr. Echikson worked with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to bring the State of Deception exhibit on Nazi Propaganda to Europe. He also worked for six and a half years at Google running corporate communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He launched the company’s Europe blog and led its efforts around data center government affairs and Internet freedom Issues. Mr. Echikson began his career as a foreign correspondent in Europe for a series of US publications including the Christian Science Monitor. Wall Street Journal, Fortune and BusinessWeek. From 2001 until 2007, he served as Brussels Bureau Chief for Dow Jones. Mr. Echikson also has written, directed and produced for television documentaries for BBC and America’s Public Broadcasting Service. He is the author of four books, including works on the collapse of communism in Central Europe and the history of the Bordeaux wine region. An American and Belgian citizen, Mr. Echikson graduated from Yale College with a Magna Cum Laude degree in history.
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