Sunday 19 November was designated Mitzvah Day across Australia. Their website http://mitzvahday.org.au/ lists over seventy different projects that took place just about everywhere there were Jews. For the fourth year, Beit Shalom joined in, and it was very special. We put on a beautiful barbecue lunch for clients of the Mercy House of Welcome, a centre in Kilburn providing services to asylum seekers living in the community. I’d like to give a massive shout out to all the Beit Shalom members who helped, as well as to those who made donations to assist with the costs. The children had an especially good time, but it was also lovely to see tired parents get the opportunity to relax for a while as well, as well as some of the single men who enjoyed the delicious food and the beautiful weather.
Many of us chatted with our guests at the picnic, and those conversations were eye-opening indeed. I talked with a woman whom I ultimately remembered meeting probably five years ago at an Id al-Fitr celebration hosted by the Mercy House of Welcome. She is a Hazara asylum seeker who is still in limbo years after reaching this country. At the moment, her family is one year into a three-year temporary protection visa. When that visa expires, she’ll have to start the application process all over again, and there is always the possibility her family will be deported back to danger in Afghanistan. Another woman at the picnic was quite late into her pregnancy: the nun who assists asylum seekers as an immigration attorney noted that when her baby is born, it will be classified as an “illegal maritime arrival” even though the birth will take place in Australia. Asylum seekers currently in off-shore detention are very much in the news, but the nearly 30,000 asylum seekers living among us in Australia are nearly invisible.
In the same week as our picnic, nearly every Jewish youth movement in Australia, including Adelaide’s JAZY group, united to issue a joint statement condemning the treatment of the refugees on Manus Island. In their statement they wrote, “We bear witness to the human suffering on Manus Island and refuse to be complicit…We call on the rest of the Australian Jewish community to follow suit.” The Moetzah—the Council of Progressive Rabbis—issued a press release urging the Australian government to “act with moral conviction and courage to find a sustainable and humane solution.” As the youth leaders pointed out, one of our central Jewish texts calls on us to pursue justice.
So we continue to think globally and act locally. We acted locally in reaching out to asylum seekers and offering them warm hospitality for a day. But we must also continue to think globally and recognise that their continuing state of limbo is part of a larger Australian policy to deny a permanent home to genuine refugees. Let us hope we see a change of heart very soon.