There are those who are calling us naïve; that we are ignoring the facts and putting our community in jeopardy. Some have asked whether we have a moral responsibility to care for the impoverished within our own city and country before we help strangers halfway across the world. A few have shared with me that something just doesn’t sit right with them about helping Muslim Syrians—Yezidi’s sure, even Christians—but do we have to help Muslims? ‘What about an ISIS invasion?’ others have pondered.
In the 21st century, we have a choice. As our world is continuously shrinking due to technology and social media, we can limit the commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself” as only referring to Jews living in close proximity to us, or we can expand it as a call to help all those who are in our midst because we are aware of their existence and have heard their cry, regardless of who they are or where they live.
The Beth Tzedec Board of Governors has decided that we, as a community, will not limit our definition of ‘brother’ by only sponsoring a family if they fit into a certain ethnic or religious mold. There are systems that exist, put in place by both the UN and the Canadian government, to ensure that our sponsorship is responsible. As well, JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Services), the agency with whom we are partnering, is committed to family reunification. What this means for us is that we will be able to develop a relationship with family members of the refugees already living here, and work with them to anticipate the needs of the family we will be sponsoring. To that end, we have already connected with a local woman with family members in Syria. As I write this article, her family is attempting to escape to a refugee camp in Turkey.
To date, we have received generous donations from dozens of Beth Tzedec members and expressions of support from many more who feel that we have an imperative to help in any way we can. Some feel that the goal of sponsoring one family is not enough, and that we should set our sights higher. Many have offered to join a committee to help fundraise and meet the settlement needs of the family upon their arrival.
It is important to remember that this initiative should be likened to a marathon and not a sprint. We know that there is great momentum now, but we don’t expect the family to arrive before the spring, at the earliest. (It would be wonderful to have them arrive around Pesaẖ—Zman H̱eruteinu—the Season of Liberation.) At that point, we will need many people to contribute time to help the family register for services, search for housing and employment, acclimate to our city and begin to feel at home here. In the meantime, here is what you can do to help:
- Join the Sponsorship Committee: Help with the settlement effort, fundraise, deal with logistics, offer friendship and emotional support to the resettled family.
- Donate: Call the office to make a tax deductible donation designated to the Syrian Refugee Sponsorship Program.
- Organize a fundraiser to help with this initiative.
I spent time this past week teaching Grade 8 students at Robbins Hebrew Academy how to put on tefillin. We recited together this passage from Hosea as we wrapped the tefillin around our fingers: “I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, loving-kindness and compassion.” These words remind us of our commitment to God and to humanity. We cannot inspire the next generation of Jews if we do not do our utmost to live up to our ideals.
If you are interested in getting involved, please contact me, as I will be guiding this effort for our Congregation. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 647- 267-8752.
“Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now. —Rabbi Jonathan Sacks