In places where strong cultures of solidarity and a sense of belonging have developed in the Jewish community, this was achieved through a dual-track strategy. The first involves investing in the local non-Jewish community, encouraging the Jewish community to trust that the place where we currently reside is our home; our neighbors are indeed neighbors regardless of religion or ethnicity. The second track focuses on Jewish history of migration and “Otherness”; we’ve been strangers for much of our history and were often welcomed; it is our responsibility to welcome the stranger now. This is based on millennia of Jewish teaching regarding the obligation to welcome foreigners.
Track 1 is accomplished through organized community service, including planting trees, garbage cleanup, and volunteering at homeless shelters, refugee housing complexes or retirement homes. These projects will be implemented alternately (1) by the community itself, and (2) in cooperation with other local community organizations. This serves as a symbol both to the Jewish community and to the broader society that the Jewish community wishes to give something to their neighborhood, and to do so in solidarity with their neighbors.
Track 2 is accomplished through festivities and other activities which place Jewish traditions in a modern context, inviting non-Jewish neighbors to partake. #RefugeesWelcome Seders for Pesach (commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the roots of Jewish migration) have been very effective, as has awareness-raising around homelessness and displacement on Sukkot (“Festival of Shelters,” celebrated by constructing and residing in temporary shelters). “Refugee Shabbat” has also been regularly implemented by Jewish humanitarian organization HIAS.
Both tracks include study and discussion of Jewish sources on the topics of community building, solidarity with neighbors, and welcoming the stranger. Rodfei Tsedek is focused on implementing both these tracks across Europe both locally and digitally, first in English, German, Swedish, Danish, Hebrew and Yiddish, with more going forward.
Nearly all of Europe’s Jews have a migrant background. If they or their parents aren’t migrants, their grandparents or great-grandparents fled from pogroms or the holocaust. Where this history has yielded a culture of solidarity and of “welcoming the stranger” in other Jewish communities (such as in North America and the UK), this has not been the case in continental Europe. As Jewish activists in interfaith action in Europe over the past decade, the leaders of Rodfei Tsedek have witnessed with sadness the disengagement and disintegration of Jewish communities from the broader European society. Naturally, there are justifications both historical and modern for this separation, but looking at Jewish communities on other continents, it is evident that this does not have to be the case. Elsewhere, for example USA, Bosnia or Morocco, Jewish engagement in society as integrated equals has been crucial for movements of solidarity, making the fabric of society more resilient in the face of extremist, nationalist movements. This has led to rapid and thorough responses to such extremists, and in some cases, such as in Sarajevo, has even saved thousands of lives.
Europe has a drastic need for this in the face of rising nationalist extremism, especially when some extremist groups and nationalist figures have instrumentalized European Jews against other marginalized communities. Rodfei Tsedek doesn’t just build this Culture of Solidarity within the Jewish community, it also invites non-Jews to be a part of this culture, to share in the most intersectional and welcoming parts of Jewish culture. It reminds Europe’s Jews that this is a core tenet of being Jewish and plants this welcoming culture deep in the heart of European Jewish identity, just as it has become an irrevocable part of Jewish identity in the aforementioned places.