UK

Holocaust Memorial Day: London Synagogue Will House Refugee Syrian Family

'The project helps those of us who benefited in the past to extend opportunities to people currently fleeing for their lives'.

27/01/2017 00:09 GMT | Updated 27/01/2017 09:15 GMT

Today people around the world will pause to remember the six million Jewish people who were murdered during the genocide in Europe in the years leading up to 1945.

The South London Liberal Synagogue, in Streatham, will offer prayers for the victims in their Friday night and Saturday morning services to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

But as well as remembering and honouring the persecuted, the synagogue – part of the Liberal Judaism movement – is making long-term plans to extend a helping hand to those fleeing modern day tyranny.

This year it plans to convert part of its premises to accommodate a refugee family from Syria.

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The South London Liberal Synagogue plans to convert part of its premises into accommodation for Syrian refugees 

Synagogue chair Alice Alphandary, herself the daughter of an Egyptian refugee who came to Britain in the 1950s, told The Huffington Post UK: “If you look at Jewish history, we have moved around Europe over the centuries and we have relied on local communities willing to accept Jews, as Great Britain very kindly did during World War II.

“For a lot of us, the sense is that if Britain hadn’t been so kind to our families, we wouldn’t be here today and we wouldn’t be able to give back to society today.”

The synagogue hopes to raise £50,000 to convert a former caretaker’s apartment into a two-bedroomed flat for a Syrian family displaced by President Al Assad’s regime.

The space has intermittently been used as a classroom and has since had its bathroom and kitchen removed, but an architect member of the congregation has drawn up plans to make it habitable.

Once the money is raised via this fundraiser, planning permission will be sought and the actual work should not take longer than a month.

Alice Alphandary
Alice Alphandary is the chair of the South London Liberal Synagogue in Streatham 

It will then be offered to Lambeth Council with the hope it will match it to a family in need.

Named the Abraham’s Tent Project after the biblical story of Abraham’s open-sided tent to welcome strangers, the drive reflects the importance of hospitality in sustaining life in the Jewish tradition.

The concept of giving sanctuary to the needy is one the synagogue holds especially dear.

Harriet Neuberger, a member of the synagogue’s council, said: “My grandmother fled Nazi Germany in the 30s thanks to a Birmingham couple who employed her as a housekeeper.

“Having been given a foothold in the UK she was able to arrange safe passage for her brother who was just a child, and then finally her parents. 

“Thanks to the British tradition of providing refuge to those in danger, my family survived. The Abraham’s Tent Project helps those of us who benefited in the past to extend opportunities to people currently fleeing for their lives.”

Jane Barlow/PA Wire
A pharmacist dispenses medicines to Syrian refugees at a camp near Taalabaya in the Bekaa Valley

Lev Taylor, who is also a member of the project team, added: “My grandfather came to this country as a refugee fleeing the Nazis.

“He was put up by Christians in a church in Durham. It feels so fitting that today the Jewish community can extend the same welcome to refugees that was extended to us.”

Historians estimate the total number of deaths in the Holocaust to be 11 million, with the victims encompassing gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, black people and resistance fighters. Half of the victims who weren’t Jewish were Polish.

Holocaust Memorial Day also specifically includes commemoration of genocides that took place after 1945, including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

In 2015, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK will be resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. The UK Refugee Council estimates the number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain so far stands at just 2,898. 

According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 4 million people have fled Syria since 2011. 

To donate to the Abraham’s Tent Project, click here