‘We sat and wept’, said the leader of the Somali Bravanese community to me when we met. It wasn’t just a building which the fire at their community centre in Muswell Hill destroyed in the early hours of last Wednesday, but their second home, where their children went to study after school, where they felt safe, supported and cared for. The place was everything one would call a true community: a centre of solidarity, celebration, learning, culture, care and prayer. There was a sense of shock as we spoke, as of the loss of part of the very heart of a family.
But the following shall not be lost: strong and effective civic solidarity; deep trust that when hate or misfortune strikes no community will be left to stand alone; kindness between neighbours whether of the same or of a different religion; hope and aspiration for a better future for all children; closeness and co-operation rooted in the faith which unites all Faiths, – our shared belief in goodness, kindness, justice and peace.
It’s heartening that, like other local rabbis, I have received numerous messages of support to pass on to the community. As Rabbi David Mason of Muswell Hill Synagogue, a close neighbour of the centre, said: “We will work to ensure that the Bravanese community have all the support they need and that this disgraceful incident does not disrupt the harmony that exists between all our local communities.”
Together with other neighbours and fellow congregations we must try to help the community rebuild not just the fabric of what can be seen, bricks and roofing, but of what cannot be seen, trust, hope and human fellowship. In this we must be guided at all times by the needs and sensitivities of the Bravanese community.
Although I’ve been a guest on more than one occasion at the Bravanese centre, I’ve never troubled until now to find out where Brava actually is. It’s a city in Somalia on the Indian Ocean, whose people have been persecuted for reasons all too familiar to Jews: high aspiration, high achievement, and simply for being different. Coming here, Bravanese people faced many struggles, first to remain in this country and then to build community through activities like those which take place in the centre in Muswell Hill. The Somali Bravanese Welfare Association in Barnet (the centre is exactly on the Haringey border) lists the following services:
- Advice, information and support for the Somali Bravanese community.
- Befriending and outreach service for older, socially isolated community members.
- Accompanying community members to appointments where there may be language difficulties.
- English classes.
- IT training centre.
- After schools programme for local children aged 11+.
- Social, recreational and cultural events and activities.
Together with many others, I’m in touch with the leaders of the community and will pass on details of what is needed as they become clear.
There is always the danger that tragedies and hate crimes are exploited by groups wanting to manipulate them for causes of their own. What matters here is something far deeper and far more basic. It demands of us all a threefold affirmation: of our common and equal humanity, of our mutual interdependence, and of the unique value of each one of us and of every community.