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European rabbis give aid to Syrian, Iraqi refugees in Greece

Over 60 religious leaders distribute blankets, clothing in Athens, urge generous treatment of refugees but also vigilance

Illustrative: Syrian refugees wait near the border railway station of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 25, 2015. (Santi Palacios/AP)
Illustrative: Syrian refugees wait near the border railway station of Idomeni, northern Greece, on August 25, 2015. (Santi Palacios/AP)

European rabbis who gathered in Greece for a conference brought with them blankets and other goods to hand out to refugees from Syria and Iraq.

“As winter is coming to Europe, we collected thermal blankets and other clothing items for the refugees, who keep streaming into Greece at a rate of thousands of people each day,” Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis, told JTA in a phone call from Greece.

Goldschmidt and 60 other rabbis from across Europe gathered in Athens this week for the organization’s Standing Committee meeting. The rabbis are scheduled to distribute the blankets on Wednesday at a camp that Greek authorities set up for the migrants outside the Greek capital, Goldschmidt said.

European Jewish organizations in the Netherlands, Belgium and beyond called for generous treatment of the refugees, but also urged local and European Union authorities to remain vigilant about potential risks to Jews connected with the arrival of approximately one million Muslims from the Middle East this year.

“This twofold approach is basically also the position of the Conference of European Rabbis,” Goldschmidt said. “The refugees are in need, and we as Jews cannot ignore it. But we also need to recognize they come from countries that have been at war with Israel and where anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish tendencies are very common. So vigilance is necessary,” he said.

In addition to aiding refugees, the visiting rabbis are scheduled to discuss European anti-Semitism and the attempts to ban Jewish customs such as ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision, Goldschmidt said.

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