Limmud and the London Riots

A group of Limmud volunteers have been responding to the London riots in a very practical display of tzedakah and gemilut Chassidim.

In an email to eJewish Philanthropy prior to Shabbat, Raymond Simonson, Limmud’s Executive Director, told us: “We found a couple of days ago that Haringey Council’s Customer Service Centre in South Tottenham was responding to the fact that a number of families have been made homeless (at least temporarily if not worse) as a result of the riots in Tottenham. People live in flats above shops that have been set on fire, so their homes have been badly or permanently damaged. Many have lost clothes and possessions. They feel frightened and alone and are confused how they have ended up victims in this.

We asked if they needed anything and found out they need bedding, clothes for adults and kids, and toys. A message went out from Limmud via Twitter and Facebook to get volunteers to drop donations off at our office and I offered (with one of our volunteers) to drive a load over to the centre in Tottenham that afternoon.

The response has been amazing and by that afternoon we had a couple of car loads full of adults and kids and babies clothes; toys; children’s books; pillows; blankets and towels. Over the next couple of days the donated goods kept coming – even today as the support workers have told us they need toiletries and baby items and within an hour of a Facebook message going out, a bunch of Limmudniks turned up with sackfulls of goods. As always, this was a cross-communal response with donations coming in from Jews regardless of their background, affiliation, level of commitment, knowledge or age.

We also contacted the local Zionist youth movements and suggested they donate leftover camp sweatshirts and Israel tour t-shirts. At least a couple of them responded promising to bag up a load of stuff to drop off at Limmud’s office and also collect lost property to donate after their camps have finished.

This is a very simple, practical, hands-on, low key response to what is going on. We want to show those people who have suffered and have lost much of their stuff that they are not alone. That London is not made up just of those who break things, but those who try and repair a damaged world – tikkun olam in a pure sense.

A couple of days ago I found out that Haringey Council had set up a temporary respite centre at the Tottenham Green Leisure Centre (in the heart of where the riots were). So I’ve been down there with a couple of Limmud volunteers with a few car loads of donated stuff from Limmud families. We ended up sitting with some angry, distraught locals who have lost everything. They were moved to tears by the generosity and kindness of a bunch of Jewish people from another part of London who’ve never met them and who come from very different backgrounds. We chatted about the importance of community and of the shared values we have. Of how we are all part of one big London community regardless of colour, race or religion. They asked me to pass on a simple message back – “thank you and God bless you”.

As the Limmud community in the UK is preparing for Limmud Fest in just two weeks time [which has a strong thread of social justice and social action running through it], it’s been heartening to see how people aren’t just happy to talk the talk, and learn and discuss these important values and issues, but respond so quickly in a simple, practical way to put their values into action. Makes me proud to be part of such a community.

Some of us are going down to Tottenham tomorrow afternoon to help with the cleanup operation. For once our resources won’t be texts, sources and handouts, but brooms, bin liners and rubber gloves. A perfect way to remind ourselves why building strong communities – whether a community of faith, colour, ethnicity or in this case geography – will always triumph over those who either seek to destroy them or who simply couldn’t care less. A perfect way to finish off a difficult week before we retreat back to our Jewish communities to welcome in Shabbat.”

image: view down Tottenham High Road (7 August 2011); courtesy Alan Stanton; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.