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Friday, 20 February 2015 15:41

Peace flourishes in Kilburn

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Kilburn smallerA Jewish couple working with Catholic Sisters and Christian volunteers to support Muslim asylum seekers fleeing persecution – it could be the perfect marketing pitch to promote the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.

It could also be a very real act of inter-religious unity taking place in a suburb just north of Adelaide.

At the Mercy House of Welcome, run by Mercy Works Ltd in Kilburn, retired teachers Sylvia and Bill Barnes volunteer teaching English to Muslim asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“I was raised to be accepting of all people, and this is one way I can live out what I believe,” says Sylvia.

She knows well the suffering of religious persecution as her Jewish grandmother and mother were forced to flee from Nazi occupation in Vienna to the United States. “A lot of our family was lost…but we were always encouraged to embrace all humanity.”

Sylvia and Bill belong to Beit Shalom, the Progressive Jewish Congregation of Adelaide, which in November hosted a Halal barbecue picnic for asylum seekers from the Mercy of House of Welcome.

“The picnic was a great opportunity to show our families that Muslims are no different to any of us in the ways we consider most important,” says Beit Shalom Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky.

The picnic was organised by the families of the Beit Shalom Sunday School on Mitzvah Day – when Jewish communities across the world perform acts of kindness.

For the past 18 months, Rabbi Kaminsky has been working hard to raise awareness in her community of Australia’s unjust asylum seeker policies.

“On a practical level, I have been encouraging members to assist the Mercy House of Welcome,” says Rabbi Kaminsky.

The House was set up by Mercy Works in October 2013 and provides refuge, English lessons, and legal, material and pastoral support each day to 30-70 asylum seekers on bridging visas or in community detention.

Sr Mary Symonds rsm, a lawyer and migration agent who works at the Mercy House of Welcome, says the involvement of the Jewish community in supporting predominantly Muslim asylum seekers had helped break down stereotypes and foster great solidarity between all three religions. “It has been a wonderful experience to see Jewish people caring for Muslims along with Christian volunteers.”

The Mercy House of Welcome needs donations to keep running a food bank for asylum seekers who are unable to work under existing visa conditions. They also need white goods. To make a donation visit http://www.mercyworks.org.au or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article was first published in the February 2015 issue of The Southern Cross, the official publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.