'As we mark the Jewish holidays, we welcome refugees'

Refugees from Afghanistan arrive on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport

Refugees from Afghanistan arrive on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport - Credit: PA/Dominic Lipinski

This year’s season of Jewish holidays has, at best, been different.

With our synagogues offering a creative and wide range of ways to celebrate Rosh Hashana (new year) and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) in marquees, rugby stadiums, on Zoom, and socially distanced in synagogues, families have needed to adapt, none more than ours. 

With so many vulnerable family members – from my dad at 96 to my soon-to-be-born great nephew – for my family, the stakes were high.

Squashing round a too-small table with a shared, over-licked spoon in the new year honey jar, and not enough air to breath never mind, to flow, was not an option.   

So, after endless feverish taps on the weather app, 20 of us gathered in my brother Richard’s Muswell Hill home and his accessible, if rather unkempt, garden travelling from all corners of northwest London. There, we feasted on freshly baked round challah from Belsize Park, fishballs with spicy horseradish from St John's Wood and sliced apples, picked from a tree literally and precariously above our heads. 

As we move forwards next week to Sukkot, our focus will be shifting to hosting our friends and neighbours in our sukkah, a symbolic temporary outdoor home, with food, fun and friendship. This year, we’re acutely aware of the hundreds of Afghan refugees, torn brutally from their permanent homes and taken into temporary ones here, by Barnet, Harringay and Camden councils. Whilst we will return to our comfortable homes after dinner in our sukkah, the refugees are only at the start of their long and difficult journey to a permanent stable and secure life here in Britain. 

At a meeting of Camden faith leaders last week, we discussed the emotional, economic, and physical challenges facing the Afghan families. We can’t sort all their problems, but we can help with donations of high quality, specific and much needed new clothes, and money for hot nutritious meals.

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Above all, we can offer warm and kind offers of friendship and hospitality be it in our houses, our places of worship or even, if needs must, in our north London and unkempt, back gardens. 

Laura Marks OBE is founder of Mitzvah Day, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and an interfaith consultant – commongood.uk.com

Laura Marks OBE

Laura Marks OBE - Credit: Laura Marks