JCore has provided a Jewish voice on race and asylum inequality for over four decades.
Working in partnership with anti-racism and refugee organisations, a core group of workers provide a Jewish perspective in holding the government to account on prejudice and discrimination.
The organisation draws on Jewish refugee experiences and a tradition of social activism.
Mainstream campaigns include Let the children in! as a response to the Government ending the Dubs scheme for relocating refugee children.
JCore calls on the system to be reinstated and for children to be transferred quickly and efficiently.
The organisation runs Jump, a one-to-one befriending project for vulnerable young asylum seekers who have come to the UK without parents or a guardian. Executive director Dr Edie Friedman, who hails from Chicago, has been a mainstay of JCore since founding the organisation in 1976.
A regular speaker and writer on the topic, she has authored books and educational resources.
“Jewish people played a prominent role in fighting for civil rights,” she explained.
“The experience of black Americans was in some ways quite similar to issues in South Africa in terms of segregation, particularly in the south.
“I was brought up to believe that part of being Jewish was to be involved in fighting for social justice, so when I moved to Britain to study in Leeds, I wanted to have some of that engagement.
“There are many Jewish people involved in human rights issues, I wanted the Jewish community to have a stronger voice in standing up for racism and supporting refugees.”
She added, “JCore provides a Jewish voice on asylum issues and the challenges are still with us today. Different groups of refugees have come here and struggle for equality – it is an on-going issue.
“A Jewish community must have a voice as it helps community solidarity and cohesion. Also, it is about having a positive Jewish identity connected to making the world a better place.”
JCore’s wide range of supporters encourages Dr Freidman.
“Jews want to see a community involved whatever their age or position and wherever they sit in the community religiously,” she said. “JCore is for people across the board.
“Jewish values are the same for all of us, but sometimes, I think we forget the central role ethics and social justice play in being Jewish.
“Organisations outside the Jewish community are concerned with refugees but asylum speakers are really pleased we provide a Jewish voice. Its important Jewish organisations engage with the wider world, but it does not mean we are not concerned about our own community.”
On a practical level, JCore organises speakers, send letters to the press among other activities.
“We have around 30 befrienders that accompany minors who come from terrible conditions and find themselves in Britain without any family.
“This situation resonates, though it’s not the same, with our experiences of the Kindertransport when 10,000 Jewish children came here without their families.
“We also have a scheme to help refugee doctors re-qualify. This also reminds us of when Jewish refugee doctors came to Britain in the 1930s and found it very difficult to re-qualify.”
In terms of further help, she added, “Synagogues and organisations collect toiletries and food to distribute at one of four synagogue drops-ins centres.
“There are many destitute asylum seekers who do not have basic requirements of life so this is a way of providing necessary goods to restore some of their lost dignity.”
JCore’s campaign ‘Let the Children in!’ at Rosh Hashonah called on the government to change British law to ensure all refugee children were reunited with families promptly and safely in the UK.
“Children need to be protected and not forced into making dangerous journeys and risking exploitation at every turn,” Dr Freidman noted. “There is a lack of transparent information leaving young people in limbo for months. Its essential for the government to do the right thing.”
Government statistics released in August showed the number of people applying for asylum in the UK fell by over 25% in the previous year – 27,316 applications were made.
Statistics also showed a 50% increase where asylum cases waited longer than six months to receive an initial decision. Over 10,000 applications had not received a decision.
Dr Friedman commented, “The statistics make clear there are necessary reforms to be made to the asylum system. Our stance is that asylum seekers who have been waiting for a decision for longer than six months should be allowed to work – far too many asylum seekers are relying on support whilst being denied the means to provide for themselves.
“Furthermore, the Home Office needs to scrutinise the way decisions are made.
“Something is wrong if there are so many cases going to appeal and those are then being overturned. Not only is this highly traumatic for refugees and asylum seekers, it is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and government resource.”
JCore has a number of patrons and is steadfast in its determination to help.
“On a practical level we have made a contribution recognised inside and outside the Jewish community but we want even more awareness of our work,” said Dr Friedman.
“It could be by getting hundreds of people to sign petitions to say we in the Jewish community feel strongly about issues and want our voice recognised. It’s also important to be in the Jewish press to animate that voice but there is a lot more we can and should be doing.”
She added, “The Jewish community plays its part in raising asylum issue awareness in the United Kingdom.
“There is a lot of activity within faith communities whether its setting up drop in centres, campaigns, offering accommodation or teaching English. Sometimes we come together to sign a statement or organise an event and we are part of that process.
“Its important other communities see the Jewish community involved.”
JCore recently hosted a day of action to petition the Home Secretary to be presented to the Home Office and Dr Freidman spoke at a Labour Conference fringe meeting hosted by the Jewish Labour Movement.
Judith Flacks of the Jewish Leadership Council chaired a panel that included Lord Dubs, Ruth Smeeth MP and human rights lawyer Sarah Sackman.
JCore is here to stay and represent the Jewish communities of the United Kingdom in a positive light.