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Report of the meeting on Tuesday May 16th, 2017

Talk on a visit to the Calais Jungle by Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi

This was a very poorly attended meeting, because – it seems – people did not receive the usual email reminder about it. However, the few who came had the privilege of an intimate conversation with Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi, who has been the rabbi of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue since 1994.

She told us of growing up aware of having no living grandparents on her father’s side, but being like most children incurious about that until her father’s story emerged when she was older. He was born in Berlin, and was the last person to have his bar-mitzvah at the Berlin synagogue before Kristallnacht, the concerted Nazi attack on Jewish shops and premises in November 1938, when he was 13. Through his uncle, and the activist Gertrude Weissmuller, his parents managed to engineer his leaving Germany, first for Amsterdam and finally for Liverpool, while they remained in Germany and perished in the death camps. He later became a rabbi, and is now a vigorous 91.

 This seminal experience as a young teenager gave him an immediate understanding of the difficulties faced by today’s refugees, and much of our meeting with Rabbi Jacobi was taken up with her account of the visit she and her father paid to the refugee camp at Calais in the summer of 2016, seeing the containers some lived in, the spent tear gas canisters lying around, and the desperate conditions lived in by teenagers no older than her father was when he left Germany.

We also learnt something of the history of Progressive Judaism, founded in Germany in the 18th century, with the twin aspirations of becoming accepted as German citizens and re-thinking the issues of Biblical authority in a liberal age. Today Liberal Jews ordain women as rabbis and accept gay marriage, while putting more emphasis on ethical questions than on ritual and food law.

Christopher Lamb

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