In muddy French refugee camp, To­rah ethics live

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - RABBI JONATHAN WIT­TEN­BERG

“COM­PUL­SORY tea break”. The call goes around the huge ware­house five min­utes’ drive from the refugee camp uni­ver­sally known as “The Jun­gle” out­side Calais. Dur­ing the pause, a woman in a beret eyes my kip­pah: “Are you here over Shab­bat?”

Peo­ple wheel in loads of do­nated cloth­ing. Philli, who runs the ware­house, is pre­cise about what’s needed: good sleep­ing bags; solid men’s shoes; medium sized men’s coats; two- and four-per­son tents.

In the camp, a refugee stops me. I think he’s Eritrean. He says: “Jewish? There are three, four Jews.” I’m not sure if he means peo­ple back home or in Calais. Our guide, from Au­berge de Mi­grants, apol­o­gises: there are mosques here and a church, but no syn­a­gogue.

On the road through the camp, I recog­nise a con­gre­gant, also vol­un­teer­ing. The refugee cri­sis speaks pow­er­fully to the Jewish con­scious­ness. It’s not just the To­rah’s com­mand­ment to “love the stranger”; it’s the im­me­di­acy of re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence. My fa­ther once mis­laid his pass­port. “Why does it mat­ter?” I asked — I was small at the time. “You’ll know if you ever don’t have one,” he replied. Aged 16, he was a refugee from Nazism.

I’ve never sat at a Seder with­out guests who had fled for their lives.

Dani Lawrence of Help the Refugees ex­plains: “My fa­ther left Morocco and found a home in Is­rael. My mother fled Al­giers for Paris, where my par­ents met. Be­ing French, I felt ashamed when I learnt about Calais.” Sev­eral of the women who help run the or­gan­i­sa­tion out of Ms Lawrence’s home are Jewish. For the Jewish youth move­ments and young adults who were among the first to vol­un­teer here, the ap­peal is the op­por­tu­nity to help both as Jews and as part of an in­ter­faith and in­ter­na­tional ef­fort.

It’s a way of liv­ing ac­cord­ing to Eli Wiesel’s dic­tum, “A Jew must be sen­si­tive to the pain of all hu­man beings.”

I find fur­ther res­o­nances with Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s a thirst for life, cul­ture and en­ter­prise. There’s a li­brary and a class­room, while a dome of tim­ber and plas­tic sheet­ing shel­ters a space for paint­ing and mu­sic.

All around are low tents, fee­ble bar­ri­ers and run­ning mud. Within sight is ra­zor wire block­ing ac­cess to the trains.

A de­cent way — a fair, safe and shared way — must be found to of­fer hu­man­ity a fu­ture.

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