A community’s efforts to help Afghan refugees have been praised as “a tremendous act of love” by the rabbi who launched an appeal for donations .
Rabbi Elchonon Feldman was stunned by the response to his appeal to worshippers at the Bushey United Synagogue in Hertfordshire.
It began with a message on a private Facebook page then, as word got around, ended with thousands of bags of gifts overflowing the synagogue and packing out its car park by yesterday afternoon.
The rabbi had been contacted by Laurence Brass, the councillor for Bushey North, who told him 72 Afghan families had been placed in the local area and needed items including warm clothing, toiletries, toys and basic school supplies.
Rabbi Feldman told the PA news agency: “My response was, ‘I am absolutely sure we can help although I am not sure we can look after all of their requirement, but we can certainly try.’
“It went crazy. People copied the (Facebook) message. They forwarded it around and by the time Sunday arrived we had around 3,000 bags (of items) that had been brought to help out.”
He added: “It has been a tremendous act of love and completely run by volunteers who all just wanted to help. They are not just Jewish. The message ended up going far and wide and everyone just wanted to make a difference.”
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Volunteers are now working through the donations to see where best to place the items for the Afghan families. Anything left over will go to other charities, the rabbi said.
Writer Giovanna Fletcher described the event as “a community pulling together” and said she and a friend were amazed by the act of kindness.
In an Instagram post, she said: “On Thursday night Rabbi Elchonon Feldman put a message out on Facebook. Word spread. Three days later we were driving towards the synagogue and saw streams of people walking with bags to donate.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is all being sorted and then distributed to people in need. It’s gone beyond the 72 families. What a welcoming sight.”
The rabbi said the plight of the Afghans had struck a chord with the Jewish community because of their own history.
He said: “There is a particular nerve that is hit when we hear about people who are coming here without (anything) and who are fleeing much worse – how can you possibly turn away from something like that?”
He added that he had met some of the refugees who wanted to say thank you and gave him tea, chocolates and spoke about their circumstances.
The rabbi said: “These are interpreters. These are the supporters of the Afghan forces and the UK. These are amazing people that we owe so much gratitude towards. These are not just fleeing refugees. They are heroes.”
Mr Brass said he contacted the synagogue after visiting the hotels where the Afghans had been placed temporarily and saw they were in need of basic supplies.
He said: “The Jewish community in Bushey responded in the most extraordinary fashion with tons and tons of items which the rabbi and I are looking forward to distributing this week to the refugees. I am delighted with the response.”
He recalled how fathers of young children told him they did not have pushchairs to take them to the park to play. “A message to the synagogue community was sent out and within three hours 29 buggies arrived. I thought that was just amazing and it is how it has been all day.”
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