Slavery, Exodus, Redemption (Refugees, Children and Calais) – Thought for the Week

A manifesto for education, a commitment to question. Enshrined in the very heart of the Jewish people’s sacred story, our myth, is a commitment to ask questions and to learn. That’s why the Lyons Learning Project is so important and I warmly encourage you to join our Launch Reception and courses on 25th January with the author Thomas Harding ( But allow me to take you beyond the West London Synagogue and Lyons Learning Project. Let me take you through our story to the story of a lone child who died trying to be reunited with his sister just two weeks ago.

Central to the description of the redemption from Egypt is a demand, an obligation, a manifesto for education. Listen to these statements, all found in our Torah portion this week:

“You shall explain to your child on that day.”

“When your child asks you”

“You may recount in the ears of your children and descendants”

“When your children ask you”

The authors of the Torah understood – identity is not an abstract idea. Identity, belonging, understanding, only comes through the transmission of culture, ideas, stories, experiences. The story of the Exodus from Egypt, which we are reading from the Torah, is compelling because it situates us at the heart of Jewish history. We tell our story, to understand who we are, to set our vision for ourselves and the world in which we live. Slavery, exodus, redemption. If we are not learning, we are nothing. This is our manifesto for education and our commitment to ask those important questions about why and how to live our lives.

Slavery, exodus, redemption. This is our story. But we are part of another story too.  This week I read about the current tragedy of the life of Masud, aged 15. We think he was the first known death in Northern France in 2016 in the current refugee crisis. He died trying to find a way to be reunited with his sister who lives here in the UK. Next week his case was due to be heard in court that would surely have found him to have every right to be given refuge here in the UK, reunited with family. A desperate, vulnerable child. You shall tell your child…what shall I tell my child?

What will you tell your child? We should be angry that Masud’s life ended so young. I am angry and devastated that I heard the news about Masud as I sat sipping coffee in a café on Oxford Street. I am angry that there seems a lack of will to make brave changes to the current situation. What will we do to change this, not just alleviate suffering, but actually change what is going on – as I wrote in my sermon What will we recount to our children? What is education without action? If you, like me, want to change things for others in the future then please be in touch. Because our story of Slavery, Exodus, Redemption must count for more than seder night. Email me at

To be a Jew is to learn – to learn about who you are, how better to be and to be engaged in thinking and creating the kind of world you want to exist.


There is a petition in the UK to stop children dying trying to reach families in the UK:

This contains a correction removing a reference to Syria, Masud was from Afghanistan.


Where we are and what we might do: 10,000,000 refugees

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I sat in the Houses of Parliament in a committee room listening. Here was a young man who had managed to flee Syria and begin life in the UK. His father – dead. His friends family – all dead. He told the group, gathered under the aegis of a Citizens UK campaign with Refugee Action, that there were 10 million refugees and 500,000 dead in the conflict. This is the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war.

Where do we put ourselves?

I have a friend, an amazing educator and activist in Israel, who asked a simple question – wracked with what we might call the guilt of being unable to do anything about genocide in places like Kosovo (in our lifetimes) – he asked what would we be prepared to do to intervene in the chaos and devastation of our time?

A response

We need to reframe our conversations about refuge, sanctuary, asylum. I’m desperate for a discourse that is not reductive of human life to the financial cost to our economy. Put like that, what our councils and our government (successive governments really) bank on is that the issue of refugees is so sufficiently toxic and the financial self-interest so sufficiently strong that any real change in the way that they speak about individuals seeking safety is political suicide.

We must find new ways of discussing the issues. One that does not lose sight of the human plight.

What do we do

We need to demand that our politicians take brave decisions to protect the fragile human lives that are endangered. That means a readjustment – not least to say in spite of pressures on our infrastructures, we will house the vulnerable and protect them. We will give them all we can for a  new lease of life.

But more than that I ask – are we personally willing to step up, to offer people a home in our home? Can we find the time, resources and interest to save people who are different to us. Can we personally offer sanctuary in our homes, even whilst we offer a societal sanctuary.

10, 000,000 refugees and 500,000 dead.

What is our responsibility?