THE KOL NEFESH REFUGEE PROJECT
The Kol Nefesh Refugee Project is the brainchild of KN member Cheryl Sklan, who had an epiphany when a refugee being interviewed on a news programme mentioned that he had never been to a British person's home. Cheryl thought, "I'm British, and I have a home. Why not invite a refugee?" Cheryl turned to fellow KN member Tanya Novick, who is active with New Citizens' Gateway (formerly the Barnet Refugee Service; www.ncgateway.org.uk). Tanya spoke to some of the organisation's clients, who were delighted to be invited. And so the Kol Nefesh Refugee Project was born.
The Refugee Project now has three main components: weekly gatherings for women refugees; monthly lunches after Shabbat services at shul; and special events.
Weekly Gatherings for Women Refugees
Since 2017, Cheryl has been hosting groups of women refugees in her home on Tuesdays, bringing together participants from all the world's trouble spots – Afghanistan, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Turkey, and elsewhere. Other KN members volunteer alongside Cheryl, helping with transport, logistics, and food. Still others have hosted meals for smaller numbers of refugees in their own homes, helping to forge ever-stronger links between the women and our community.
The women who take part in these events are not all alike – but they have much in common. Many have refugee status, others are waiting for leave to remain, some are struggling through the difficult appeals process. Their lives are difficult, and many are separated from friends and loved ones. The inevitable stress and heartache experienced by those who manage to seek refuge on these shores is compounded by an interminable asylum process, an onerous bureaucracy, and a lack of housing. In addition, many of the women are in poor health both mentally and physically. The KN Refugee Project helps provide them with company, reassurance and a place to socialise, share experiences, practice their English, and explore British culture.
Monthly Lunches on Shabbat
We have now started regular lunches at the synagogue after Shabbat services once a month, usually on the last Shabbat of each month. Members prepare a lunch and share it with asylum seekers (men, women and children) who are currently living in temporary hotel accommodation in the area while they wait for their status to be finalized. This is an opportunity for us to come together, make social connections, share experiences and get to know each other. Most of the people we are in touch with are from Afghanistan and Iran, but some are from China, East Africa, or Congo.
These are people who have left everything behind, their family members, their homes, their belongings, their lives. They’ve escaped persecution, disruption and war. They are dealing with all kinds of trauma and loss.
In addition to hosting regular lunches, we aim to help this group of asylum seekers with small funding needs – e.g., for school uniforms and supplies, school trips, art materials, local travel costs, etc. Contact our administrator, Elaine White, on email@example.com for more information.
In 2019 we held our first special event: a party for asylum seekers and refugees on December 25th (Christmas day). This date is especially difficult for refugees who may have no family nor friends nearby, and who are often stuck in bleak accommodation with no access to TV whilst the rest of the country celebrates. They are further isolated by the lack of public transport. Our guests were Muslims, Christians, other religions or none – but this was a day of food, dancing and fun, with no religious overtones. This project was supported through the 2019 Kol Nidrei Appeal, and extra money raised went into the general Refugee Project pot, covering travel costs and other necessities.
We have also furnished funds to buy art supplies, allowing one asylum seeker who is an art teacher to begin running art classes for children and adults.
What Can You Do?
We are always looking for volunteers to get involved in any of these projects. Financial support is also always needed. (It’s worth noting that travel alone for 20 people coming from all over London can easily be £200/week.)
For more information or to get involved, please contact our administrator, Elaine White, on firstname.lastname@example.org. Elaine will put you in touch with Cheryl, Tanya, and other project organisers. Thank you!