From Baghdad to Coventry – a rabbi reflects on refugees’ journeys

L to R - Rabbi Guttentag, Martin, Rabbi Mason, Rabbi Liss, Hafssa, Rabbi Birnbaum, Alyaa, Rabbi Levene, Rabbi Taylor. Only refugees' first names have been used.
L to R - Rabbi Guttentag, Martin, Rabbi Mason, Rabbi Liss, Hafssa, Rabbi Birnbaum, Alyaa, Rabbi Levene, Rabbi Taylor. Only refugees' first names have been used.

In Synagogue, we are presently reading portions of the Torah, that describe the journeying of the Jewish nation in the desert.

This journey began by their frightened exit from Egypt, running from Pharaoh and his slavemasters; and would eventually end after forty years with the entrance into the Land of Israel.

It was not an easy journey, and there were many points of vulnerability along the way.

And so journeying, movement, migration and its dramatic ups and downs has been a part of our national story ever since.

So, to be sitting last week, with individuals who have themselves experienced this journey only recently from Iraq, Syria and Yemen was quite humbling and most certainly allowed for an immediate sense of solidarity.

Rabbi David Mason in Coventry

We met a woman and her daughter who had escaped the clutches of ISIS in Iraq, only to spend 9 years as refugees in Jordan.

They were then flown to the UK as part of the UN’s Vulnerable Persons scheme for refugee resettlement, taking them to the open arms on Coventry.

How would a family brought up in Baghdad, believe that they would one day live in Coventry, a place that they had never heard about.

United Synagogue rabbis David Mason, Nicky Liss, Marc Levene, Yoni Birnbaum, Ephraim Guttentag, and Sam Taylor, with refugees Alyaa, Hafssa, Martin, Ahmad and Sara

But then think about our forebears and whether a Jewish family say brought up in Odessa, would have thought that their grandchildren would be born in say Liverpool, or Brighton.

I was also left last week with deep pride for the work in Coventry and other places in the UK undertaken by World Jewish Relief.

As one of my colleagues said, the work they were doing was a ‘Kiddush Hashem’ or sanctification of G-d’s name.

Being in Coventry with Rabbinic colleagues from the United Synagogue, viewing this amazing work of WJR, felt simply right.

left-right: Rabbi Liss, Rabbi Taylor, Rabbi Guttentag, Rabbi Levene,Rabbi Mason , Rabbi Birnbaum
About the Author
Rabbi David Mason is rabbi to an Orthodox community of over 1000 people in London and is on the executive of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue. He has an MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies and undertakes a great deal of civic and inter faith work. He was recently appointed as trustee for FODIP (Forum for Discussion on Israel and Palestine) and the Council of Christians of Jews as well as now Chairing the Haringey Multi Faith Network. He also has two years training in family therapy.
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