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A synagogue has been flooded with supplies for newly arrived Afghan families to the area after a Facebook request was met with “a tremendous act of love” from the local community.
Rabbi Elchonon Feldman, of the Bushey United Synagogue in Hertfordshire, sent a message to worshippers on a private Facebook page on Thursday night and then saw the donations pack out the venue’s car park by Sunday lunchtime.
The rabbi had been contacted by Laurence Brass, the councillor for Bushey North, who said that some Afghan families had been placed in the local area and needed items including warm clothing, toiletries, toys and basic school supplies.
Rabbi Feldman said: “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 may 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.”
Volunteers are now working through the donations to see where best to place the items for the Afghan families – and anything left over will go to other charities, the rabbi said.
There were probably about 1,500 people in the initial private Facebook group. By 11.30am on Sunday the car park had become “a mound” of clothing, bicycles, toiletries, clothing and “you had never seen anything like it”, according to the rabbi.
Writer Giovanna Fletcher described the event as “a community pulling together” and that 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 saying that 72 families have arrived locally from Afghanistan and that they need everything from clothes to children’s toys and books. Word spread. Three days later we were driving towards the synagogue and saw streams of people walking with bags to donate.”
She added: “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.”
Speaking as a member of the Jewish community, the rabbi added: “Among a group of people who have arrived in the UK as refugees themselves, 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 has 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 not like us, they are heroes. I am just trying to do my bit.
“Your children will grow up and they will find that another generation will arrive and in the same way that the UK embraced us and now we are trying to embrace you, your children and grandchildren will embrace another group of refugees and just pass it forward.
Mr Brass said he contacted the synagogue after visiting the hotels where the Afghans are temporarily been based and saw they needed many basic supplies including warm clothes as “they found the British cold (weather) very worrying”.
He said: “The Jewish community in Bushey responded in the most extraordinary fashion with tonnes and tonnes of items which the rabbi and I are looking forward to distributing this week to the refugees.
“I am delighted with the response.”
Mr Brass recalled speaking to the fathers of the young Afghan children and asked if they would like to take them outside, but was told they did not have pushchairs to carry them to the park so they could play.
Mr Brass said: “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.”