By Bonnie Gelman and Sylvie Leber
Jews for Refugees is a Jewish campaign group actively involved in trying to do something for refugees and asylum seekers.
Jews For Refugees aims to challenge mandatory detention and offshore processing and build solidarity between Jews and asylum seekers.
- write letters to the media
- attend demonstrations and marches
- meet with politicians and talk at political meetings
- share meals with refugees and asylum seekers
- attend medical and other appointments as supporters / advocates
- give driving lessons
- visit those in detention centres
- belong to other groups which also support refugees and asylum seekers
- donate money and collect material aid
- we work towards humane refugee policies and an end to off and onshore detention of asylum seekers.
We wonder why there aren’t thousands of Jews For Refugees – given our past.
Nearly 14 years ago, on Passover, Jews For Refugees gathered publicly to protest. The Green Left Weekly reported:
“MELBOURNE — On March 31, Jews for Refugees held its first public event — a 700-strong rally during the Festival of Passover, Pesach — outside Maribyrnong detention centre. A car pool and cavalcade led by Yids on Wheels — a Jewish biker group — travelled to the demonstration from the Glen Eira Town Hall in Caulfield.
The rally was publicised at the vast majority of synagogues on Shabbat HaGadol (March 23). Speakers at the event represented the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Rabbinate, community and women’s groups, holocaust survivors and Jewish students and youth, among others.
Describing how difficult it was to come to Australia as a refugee, even a legal one, holocaust survivor Helen Light pointed out that her parents would have broken any law to escape Europe.
The vigil paraded with matzot, which is symbolic food eaten at Passover, recalling the escape from the slavery of Egypt more than 3000 years ago. The event concluded with an ancient song, Ha Lachma, one line of which states, “This year we are still in bonds; next year we all will be free”. Finally, blasts from the ancient Jewish instrument, the Shofar or ram’s horn, that brought Jericho’s walls tumbling down were sounded. Its sounding is a call for the Jewish community to stand up for justice.”
Jews For Refugees’ support for the mostly Muslim refugees in detention was noted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In “Australian Jews Planning to Protest on Behalf of Muslim Asylum Seekers” (15 March, 2002), it said:
“During Passover, more than 500 Jewish protesters plan to march at a Melbourne refugee detention centre to support asylum seekers — most of whom are Muslims.
Holding matzah instead of banners, the protesters plan to demonstrate at Melbourne’s Maribyrnong Detention Centre chanting two songs from the Haggadah: ‘Ha Lachma Anya,’ or ‘This is the Bread of Affliction,’ and ‘Avadim Hayinu,’ or “Once We Were Slaves.’
There are approximately 90 refugees, including six children, in Maribyrnong.
Jews for Refugees was established by education consultant David Zyngier, 51, whose parents came to Australia in 1949 without documents, seeking asylum from war-torn Europe.
Zyngier’s mother survived the Majdanek and Auschwitz concentra
tion camps. His father joined the partisans to fight the Germans.
‘Jews were interned and vilified when they arrived in Australia after the war,’ Zyngier said. The religion of refugees ‘should be of no concern. This is a humanitarian problem. Who can forget the shiploads of Jewish refugees who were turned away during World War II?’Australia incarcerates asylum seekers in closed detention centres that are heavily guarded and surrounded by barbed- wire fences.
The asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, make their way to Australia via Indonesia, where they pay as much as $8,000 to smugglers to transport them in rickety old boats, some of which have sunk, claiming many lives. Many asylum seekers have no papers.
They are detained for up to three years in Australia while their claims for refugee status are evaluated.”
Jews for Refugees also marched in Sydney’s recent Palm Sunday while Sylbie Leber delivered a powerful speech at the Melbourne march. You can hear that speech through facebook.
To join Jews For Refugees contact [email protected].