On Sunday, December 6th, over 30 people joined the Danforth Jewish Circle’s Social Justice Committee for the first information session on the DJC’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Allie Lehmann, Chair of the DJC Social Justice Committee, welcomed everyone and began by thanking the donors who have raised more than $55K for this sponsorship! She described the work and origins of the committee, including how we are organizing for our response. She then introduced the featured speaker, Lia Kisel, the Language and Settlement Director from Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS) Toronto, which is the Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) for the DJC and is working with the new department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to support sponsorships in the Toronto Jewish community.
In the second hour of the meeting, people broke into smaller groups to discuss their reasons for volunteering and to share their varied expertise in light of the settlement work ahead. Many good conversations were shared and strong connections made. Everyone was keen to be involved and incredibly empathetic about the journey ahead for our refugee family.
People described their motivation for being involved in a variety of ways:
- a desire to build bridges between different cultures and religions; understanding this initiative will help to reduce some of the stereotypes we hold of each other
- a way to manage overwhelming feelings connected to the magnitude of this crisis, i.e. being able to focus in a concrete way on a specific action
- several people felt doing this kind of volunteer work is our responsibility, especially given Jewish history; one member hopes that by helping to settle Arab families, the work will create new bonds and better understanding between Jews and Arabs in Toronto
In her remarks, Lia Kisel commented on how strongly their work is resonating with the Jewish community and our experience of being refugees from as far back as the expulsion of Jews from Spain (many of whom settled in Syria) to the Holocaust. Currently, JIAS is working with 35 groups and has matched groups with volunteer capability but no funds to groups with funds but no volunteer capacity. Luckily, we have both at the DJC and are so thrilled have raised over $55,000 during our High Holidays fundraising for this cause.
Kisel confirmed that the family we have been matched with will NOT be in the first group of 25,000 refugees the government has committed to bring to Canada by the end of February, but should follow not long after. Our application is in the process of being completed now and once it is submitted, a JIAS Toronto Settlement Worker will meet with our volunteers and the Toronto relatives of the family we are sponsoring to develop the settlement plan together. However, because the new Liberal government is definitely speeding things up, the family may arrive sooner than we had anticipated, which is why we are beginning to plan for many things that are part of the settlement process now.
In response to a question about potential anti-Semitism, Kisel explained that since we are bringing over refugee families who have family here in Canada, they will be exposed to a broader view and that, with our responsibility to provide a warm welcome and ongoing support to the family, attitudes and prior learning will be able to change over time.
If you have questions or want to help, email the Social Justice Committee.
At this festive time of Hanukkah — a time of light and of celebrating our freedom past and present, we suggest people light an additional Hanukkah candle on the last night of our holiday to illuminate the plight of today’s refugees.