How char­ity pulled off Chief Rabbi’s visit

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY RICHARD VER­BER

THE SLEEP­LESS nights are over. The Chief Rabbi and his del­e­ga­tion of United Syn­a­gogue rab­bis are safely back in the UK.

Tak­ing the high­est-pro­file Jewish leader in the coun­try to a refugee camp was one of the most chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing things we have ever done.

World Jewish Re­lief has decades of ex­pe­ri­ence op­er­at­ing in some of the world’s most daunt­ing en­vi­ron­ments. Within the past year, we have worked in Nepal af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake and in war-torn Ukraine.

Yet this threw up unique se­cu­rity and lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges that we had to over­come in the two weeks we had to plan the trip.

The del­e­ga­tion adopted a ca­sual look to ap­pear non-threat­en­ing

The idea came from the Chief Rabbi him­self. He was keen to see how the money raised by the com­mu­nity in re­sponse to the WJR refugee ap­peal was be­ing spent.

Al­ready due to go to Athens to at­tend the Con­fer­ence of Euro­pean Rab­bis, he seized the chance to take an ex­tra couple of days to travel to the camp on the Mace­do­nian border.

Plans were made in to­tal se­crecy. Se­cu­rity was a big is­sue, and making sure the del­e­ga­tion was safe was our pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity. Even now, the de­tails can­not be re­vealed to en­sure fu­ture vis­its are not com­pro­mised.

Once in the camp we urged the rab­bis to wait to tweet about where they were un­til we were all safely on the bus back.

A large group of men in suits sud­denly ar­riv­ing in the camp, ask­ing ques­tions, would have aroused sus­pi­cion among the refugees. Were we spies or se­cret po­lice? That’s why the rab­bis dressed down in open-necked shirts and base­ball caps — not hid­ing the fact they were Jewish, but show­ing sen­si­tiv­ity to the refugees they wanted to en­gage with.

A gen­eral strike co­in­cided with the trip, which made ar­rang­ing trans­port from Athens to the re­mote border re­gion even more com­pli­cated. Kosher food had to be pro­vided, which we man­aged thanks to the Athens and Thes­sa­loniki Jewish com­mu­ni­ties.

But to see the Chief Rabbi sit with refugees, lis­ten­ing to their tragic sto­ries was worth all the plan­ning. Richard Ver­ber is cam­paigns and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager of World Jewish Re­lief


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