January 2024 Report

New Year....New Beginning

 

As we step into the dawn of a new year, we find ourselves surrounded by the promise of fresh beginnings and the opportunity to foster greater understanding, compassion, and unity within our diverse community. The past year has been a journey of challenges and triumphs, and as we welcome 2024, let us reflect on the values that bind us together as a multi-faith family.

Brent Holocaust Memorial Day 2024

Seventy-nine years ago on Saturday, the 27th of January, the vast network of over forty concentration camps coupled with sites of forced labour plus industrialised extermination facilities, referred to collectively as ‘Auschwitz-Birkenau’, was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. The barely comprehensible scale of this operation soon came to symbolise the methodical destruction of innocent people, victims of the Nazi imperial conquest designed to increase material prosperity for the Third Reich and to create a racially pure world.

Of the estimated seventeen-million people who were murdered by various means, the largest single targeted group consisted of six-million Jews while there were many millions more including non-Jewish Slavs, Sinti-Roma, mentally ill, physically disabled, gays, lesbians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political opponents plus others deemed undeserving of a place in the Nazi rose garden project. Although the Nazi paradise for aryans would have entailed a never-ending process of purification through murder, the genocide of Jews was of the highest immediate priority. Hence, the ‘Holocaust’ may be especially associated with Jewish victims but, not exclusively.

Even in 2024, we know that geographically diverse examples of crimes against humanity, including genocide, are occurring at this very moment. Culturally and politically determined categories of humans are hated, marginalised, demonised, scapegoated, economically exploited, denied basic needs, forced to endure varying forms of confinement and violence, and ultimately murdered.

Even our own freedom feels fragile. We acknowledge that each of us is anxious about the precarious state of the world not to mention our place and purpose within it. Our worries, fears and pains are so easily exploited by toxic people eager to gain or maintain power. They claim it is easy to solve complex problems. They define who should belong and who should not. It is always someone else’s fault and those who are labelled as ‘different’ cause harm to the majority, like filth or a disease.

Instead, may we feel gratitude for what goodness we do receive from and share with each other, regardless of difference; may we listen to the Other with compassion, no matter how uncomfortable; may we distinguish between evidence-based reason and fallacious tabloid rhetoric; may we exercise kindness and love rather than power; may we consider how little we really understand about ourselves and others because to be human, if we are honest, is often to be confused.

Freedom is messy, difficult, and awkward. Throughout human history, it is a struggle to gain and all too easy to lose. Here and now, as we enjoy relative freedom, what choices as individuals and as a community will we make?

–Rabbi Dr Frank Dabba Smith

 

[i] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution

School Visits

 

A few weeks after the culmination of greatly increased violence in the Middle East, BMFF Steering Group members Rabbi Dr Frank Dabba Smith and Mustafa Field met with year ten and sixth-form students at the Alperton Community School on Friday, 3rd November. After briefly discussing the need for reducing community tensions in Brent, Mustafa and Frank created a safe space for the students to express freely both heartfelt concerns and questions about the conflict and relations between members of different faiths. The students’ input was extremely articulate and conveyed both background knowledge and mutual respect. This hope-renewing activity was enabled by faculty member Alan Hart and supported by Inspector Yu Zhang of Wembley police.

On Friday, 17th November, Frank, together with Imam Hassan Hady (Al-Khoei Foundation) and Rukaya Hussein (Faiths Forum for London), met with twelve classes at Kingsbury High to deliver a programme ‘Understanding and Preventing Extremism’ developed by Leon Aslanov (Integrity-UK). In this session, students learned about push-factors such as marginalisation, disempowerment, cultural repression and socio-economic deprivation that help create youth who are psychologically vulnerable to being seduced by political and religious extremists offering a sense of purpose and belonging as well as economic gain. Particularly at risk are young people who are born in the UK and the children of immigrants as they can suffer much stress as they are caught between differing cultures. In this regard, particularly sensitive and idealistic individuals can be at risk because of the overwhelming emotions generating by feeling ‘neither here nor there’. Here, the multi-faith presenters were supported by Met-Police and received very positive feedback from the students.

Frank and Hassan then visited Malorees School in Kilburn on Thursday, 7th December and engaged with a very diverse and large group of students at a special assembly where the need for community cohesion and friendship was emphasised. These young students responded enthusiastically when expressing their views and asking personal questions of Hassan and Frank. This session was felt by students and teachers to be very enjoyable and renewing. Thanks again to Inspector Yu Zhang for his help in arranging this activity and for his engaging with the students so enthusiastically.

In these times of terrible warfare in the Middle East, such local school visits are vital and will be continued.

Diwali in Brent

Brent Multi Faith Forum members enjoyed an amazing Diwali and Hindu New Year celebration at the Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Neasden. The rain didn’t diminish the excitement, large crowds, colour and celebrations. The welcome, hospitality and organisation was top class as always. As it was also Remembrance Sunday we also witnessed a special assembly to pay tribute to soldiers from India and the Commonwealth who sacrificed their lives for justice, peace and freedom. Thanks to Kirit for his kind invitation

Read more here

Diwali celebration at Kingsbury Swaminarayan Temple

Diwali celebration at Kingsbury Swaminariyan Mandir


On Monday, 13th November, BMFF Steering Group members plus Brent Councillors and Met-Police were warmly welcomed to the Diwali celebrations at the Kingsbury Mandir. While all were enjoying the hospitality a very special guest arrived: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Mayor Khan’s emphatic message concerning the sheer importance of growing and maintaining friendships across all faiths was very well received, especially at this joyous communal occasion.

Brent Council, VAWG Event, 30.11 at Brent Civic Centre

Brent Council, VAWG Event, 30.11 at Brent Civic Centre


On Thursday, 30th November, a special event concerning violence against women and girls (‘VAWG’) was held at Brent Civic Centre. The large and diverse audience was addressed by a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, Dr Agnes Kaposi. Not only did Dr Kaposi endure the trauma of the Holocaust as a child but she and her family suffered exile after the failed revolution of 1956 in Hungary. With sheer determination and intelligence, she overcame negative stereotypes and rapidly built a brilliant career as an engineer and academic in the UK. As an immigrant, Jew and female, Dr Kaposi’s message was suffused with compassion and hope for others as well as her own strength of character; an inspiration to all women (and men) at this very timely and meaningful event.