Toronto’s Congregation Darchei Noam hosts interfaith refugee panel

From left, Martin Mark, Habeeb Alli and Naomi Alboim. Photo by Jodie Shupac for CJ News

From left, Martin Mark, Habeeb Alli and Naomi Alboim. Photo by Jodie Shupac for CJ News

In early February Canadian Jewish News published an article on an interfaith panel on refugees, hosted by Toronto’s Congregation Darchei Noam. Attended by an audience of over 250, and moderated by Globe and Mail international affairs columnist Doug Saunders, the panel discussed efforts by Toronto’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to sponsor and integrate refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict.

Naomi Alboim, who had previously been involved with Ontario’s efforts to resettle refugees from Indochina in the late ’70s and early 80s, noted that up to 35 sponsorship groups had been formed under the umbrella of the Toronto based Jewish Immigrant Aid Services to sponsor Syrian families.

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.

Yet again, one can only marvel in amazement and admiration that there exists today a society such as Canada’s, where interfaith groups can come together to help strangers fleeing far off wars and conflicts. In an age where most of the world treats refugees from Syria with hostility and disdain, communities such as Congregation Darchei Noam stand out in serving as a source of compassion, light and humanity in one of the darkest times in living memory for refugees.

It cannot be said enough; no one could have blamed Jewish congregations anywhere in the world if they had kept the Syrian refugee crisis at arm’s length, and left the task of assisting and resettling those refugees to Muslim communities. The fact that so many in the Jewish diaspora have taken the lead in providing assistance to so many Syrians should be remembered,acknowledged and chronicled as long as there are a people called Syrians. We have such few friends left in this world, Syrians have an obligation never to forget those like Toronto’s Congregation Darchei Noam who did indeed help and assist us in our darkest days.

To read the entire article by CJ News, click here.

2016-03-22T00:07:30+00:00 March 22nd, 2016|

Canadian Jewish & Muslim congregations partner to sponsor Syrian family

Temple Har Zion

Canada is one of the few countries in the world where congregations from two different religions can still come together to perform a truly noble and humanitarian deed. While the Levant remains consumed in conflicts fueled by religious and sectarian strife, Canadians remain one of the rare sane people left in the world to whom differences in faith are not a source of division, but an opportunity to do some real, tangible good in these tragic times.

And the example of the humanitarian partnership between Toronto’s Temple Har Zion and the Imam Mahdi Islamic Center to sponsor Syrian refugee families epitomizes the very best of Canadian interfaith values.

Imam Mahid Centre

The Globe and Mail newspaper published an article on the remarkable joint efforts by the Jewish and Muslim congregations to raise $60,000 to sponsor two Syrian families for resettlement in Canada. Working in cooperation with the Jewish Immigration and Aid Services (JIAS), a major Toronto based sponsorship agreement holder, the initiative was launched on March 6th 2016 at an event attended by the Honorable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees. Remarking on the initiative, the Globe and Mail quoted Mr McCallum as saying;

I went to the mosque, spoke to them and then just walked across the parking with lot with maybe 50 to 100 Muslims into the synagogue, and there were maybe 50 to 100 Jews waiting there. It makes you quite proud to be a Canadian.

“Proud to be a Canadian” indeed. There can hardly be any Arab in the Middle East that retains any rational pride at what Arab societies have become. It has been left to remarkable initiatives such as that between Temple Har Zion and the Imam Mahdi Center, and the compassionate Canadian society that produced the partnership, to offer salvation to Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing the failed societies that were Syria and Iraq.

The members of Temple Har Zion and the Imam Mahdi Center came together to save Syrian refugees. One can only hope and pray that the fortunate Syrians who have found salvation in Canada, in due time internalize and adopt the spirit of this remarkable partnership, and the values of the society that was stable enough, and compassionate enough, to offer them a new home.

To donate to the fundraising efforts, please visit the Temple Har Zion’s “Canada Helps” fundraising page.

To read the original Globe and Mail article, click here.

2016-03-15T01:25:47+00:00 March 15th, 2016|

Tablet article on Israeli NGO’s assistance to Syrian refugees in Serbia

tablet-march

Tablet Magazine ran a lengthy article on the Natan Israeli humanitarian NGO’s aid efforts and medical assistance to refugees crossing the Serbia-Macedonia border.

Several things stand out from reading the piece. In the several days that the writer, Amir Tibon, was at the field clinic, he counted no less than 30 babies, 10 pregnant women, seven people in wheelchairs, there patients suffering from diabetes, one blind person and two individuals who had lost limbs. These truly are among the most needy and desperate individuals to flee the Middle East, and there is no overstating the importance of the medical assistance that the Israeli medical staff provided these refugees.

Second, despite their desperate medical situation and need for rest, few of the refugees stayed more than a few hours or more than a night, recuperating at the clinic. All were desperate to continue on to Germany or Sweden, lest they be trapped behind closed borders. There can be no better indication or proof of the desperation of these unfortunate refugees.

There has been alot of understandable ambivalence on the part of many Jews and Israelis on assisting people from countries and societies that have traditionally been hostile to the Jewish people. In the end though, no one can be forced or pressured into offering charity, charity has to be freely given.

But Dr. Eitan Damari from Be’er Sheva very eloquently summed up the conflict between politics and the moral imperative;

Look, you can be racist in politics, everyone is a bit like that these days, but when it comes to medical treatment, the rules are different. When you see a person that needs help, you don’t ask them where they’re from or what’s their religion. You just help them. That’s what you have to do.

And finally, in the article, the aid being offered by the Natan medical team is described as “Advil for cancer”.

No. Speaking as a refugee myself, I can say that to a desperate person in a strange land, there is no such thing as “just Advil”, not when most of the world has closed their borders to Syrian refugees and many countries such as Slovenia, Poland and the USA won’t even tolerate our very presence. Refugees notice and remember the most trivial of interactions. A kind smile or a screaming policeman. Free meals and unscrupulous smugglers. Donated cloth or doors shut in their faces.

Every “Advil” offered in kindness and compassion is hope to a refugee, hope that somewhere in the world there are enough charitable people that a refugee and their family will be able to make a home for themselves, to put together the pieces of lives torn apart by Middle Eastern despots and warlords. When one is a refugee, the hope generated by kind donations of food,shelter and medicine far, far outweighs the material cost of the aid offered.

“Just Advil”? The hope that Natan and other Israeli aid organizations are giving to the refugees trekking across European countries is beyond measure. It is the sort of aid that can never be repaid in full.

2016-03-12T03:31:14+00:00 March 12th, 2016|

Jewish Community of Amherst hosts benefit for Syrian refugees

To call the current political climate in the USA toxic towards refugees from the Middle East would be an understatement. With the political discourse regarding Syrian refugees currently consisting of a race between politicians to outdo one another in sheer xenophobia and fear mongering, it takes an especially brave group of people in the USA to be seen to be sympathetic to refugees.

Which makes the generosity of the Massachusetts based Jewish Community of Amherst in holding a benefit for Syrian refugees all the more remarkable. The Daily Collegian has an article on the very creative fundraising event the JCA hosted at the end of January 2016 to raise money to assist displaced Syrians.

Consisting of a musical performance and a meal of three soups based on the recipes of Barbara Massaad’s “Soup for Syria” cookbook, the event managed to raise over $5,000 dollars for humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. David Mednicoff, director of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts and a member of the JCA, noted that while the Syrian refugee crisis was the largest humanitarian disaster since World War 2, a certain degree of donor and “compassion” fatigue seemed to have set in regarding humanitarian efforts towards Syrian refugees.

In the very globalized world we live in, neither closing our minds nor our borders to the mass displacement of people will keep the problem away from us. Leaving millions of Syrians in a warzone or transitory living space is a recipe for long-term political disaster.

As the Syrian conflict drags on into its fifth year, Jewish communities the world over have time and again shown an amazing depth of compassion and generosity towards Syrian refugees, at a time when much of the world seems largely resigned to regarding the refugee crisis as unsolvable.

And the fact that the good people of the JCA opened their hearts to the plight of Syrians, in direct contrast to the prevailing mood and trend in the USA to demonize and vilify those same refugees, speaks volumes of the moral fiber, generosity and character of the Jewish community in Amherst. In dark days such as these, acts of compassion and humanity as exemplified by the members of the Jewish Community of Amherst shine all the more brightly.

To read the entire Daily Collegian article, click here.

2016-03-02T23:24:02+00:00 March 2nd, 2016|