Doug Saunders of the Globe & Mail hosted a fascinating discussion on interfaith responses to the Syrian refugee crisis as part of World Interfaith Harmony Week. The event was held on February 9th at “Congregation Darchei Noam“, a reconstructionist synagogue in North York. Members of the Danforth Jewish Circle’s Social Justice Committee attended as well as Rabbi Miriam Margles on this cold, winter evening.
Doug kicked off the discussion by reminding us that we have “done it differently in Canada” since 1951 when the UN Refugee Charter came into being. Canada is one of the world’s leading nations to embrace the Charter by creating a refugee sponsorship model & process that allows families, groups and volunteer organizations to privately sponsor refugees.
He continued by describing historical waves of refugees since that time: Hungarians in 1956; Ismali Ugandans in 1970; Vietnamese “boat people” from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1978 & 1979; Somalis in the 1990s, as well as Bosnians, Serbs, & Kosovars from the former Yugoslavia; Sri Lankans in the early 2000s; and now the Syrian refugee crisis which is most unfortunately the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Saunders said Canada is tending to accept what he called the “tougher cases,” refugees who’ve been living in displacement camps in neighbouring countries rather than refugees of greater means who may have been able to pay their way to Europe. For that reason, in Canada it will “take the support of schools, communities and faith groups to make sure [the refugees] get the hand-holding they need,” Saunders added.
Representing the Jewish community’s response in this discussion was Naomi Alboim, one of the founders of “Lifeline Syria” an organization formed last June to train and assist groups sponsoring Syrian refugees, complementing the work of mostly faith-based sponsorship agreement holders who “have been working in the trenches since the late 1970s to sponsor refugees from all over the world.”
Naomi spoke movingly of how the current wave of anti-refugee and anti-Islam sentiment sweeping Europe “brings back painful memories” for us as Jews; and added, “We’re responding to this crisis as Jews, because it’s the right, humanitarian thing to do, because it’s an opportunity to put our values of welcoming the stranger and “tikkun olam” into practice, and as [many of us are] children of refugees, we’re paying it forward.”
Congregation Darchei Noam had just welcomed the Syrian refugee family they are sponsoring on the Sunday evening prior to the event. Naomi, both a member of the shul and their refugee sponsorship committee, spoke with tears in her eyes about the family’s reunion at the airport with their Syrian Canadian relatives who are their “anchor” family here in the GTA. Congregation Darchei Noam as the “constituent group” in the sponsorship arrangement are providing the financial support and other newcomer support services to ensure the family’s transition to life in Canada can be as smooth and welcoming as possible. Supporting them in this task is their Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), the Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS).
It will be a similar arrangement for our community, the Danforth Jewish Circle, when the family we are sponsoring arrives later this spring.
Jodie Shupac, a staff reporter for the Canadian Jewish News, offers more insight and commentary on this special event in this CJN article.
Thanks for your interest. Posted by the DJC Social Justice Committee.