News items on assistance to Syrian refugees by Jewish organizations and individuals in the USA.

A New Jersey Rabbi’s Passover Reflections on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky

Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky

In an extensive and wide-ranging interview with the Times of Israel’s Lois Goldrich, Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky discussed at length his observations and insights into the Syrian refugee crisis, in light of the Jewish holiday of Passover. As a Syrian, I found myself amazed at the fact that a Rabbi in the USA could, by drawing on the lessons of Passover, feel so much sympathy for Syrian refugees, in stark contrast to the apathy towards us on the part of most of the Arab world, many of whom will be reading countless chapters of the Quran but wont move an inch to provide assistance to Syrians.

Rabbi Pitkowsky is the religious leader of the Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, New Jersey. In the interview, the Rabbi posed a very insightful question, relevant not just to the Jewish people but to all the peoples of the world.

What does ‘never again’ mean when it’s not us being attacked?

The Rabbi addressed the complexities of the Syrian refugee crisis; the very notion of Jews helping people from a country in perpetual enmity to the state of Israel, the security risks involved in relocating Syrian refugees to the West, and the charge that some refugees who look to settle in Europe and North America do so more out of economic motives than humanitarian ones.

All these subjects, Rabbi Pitkowsky addressed with observations that were rational and level-headed. The Rabbi displayed a commendably sensible view of the crisis that stands in stark contrast to the xenophobic scare-mongering prevalent in most of American punditry, where politicians are admired for rejecting even five-year old Syrian orphans for relocation to the United States.

The Rabbi also mentioned the strong desire on the part of the congregation’s members to help Syrian refugees, and noted that while Jewish congregations and groups in Canada were deeply involved in sponsoring hundreds of refugee families, a similar option did not exist in the USA. But while the Rabbi admitted he may not have all the answers to this complicated and tragic issue, “The overriding goal is for people not to ignore the issue, and it’s easy to ignore it in our complicated, busy lives.”

As a Syrian who feels let down by his fellow Arabs, I cannot help but admire how the Rabbi’s drawing on the lessons of Passover have lead him to a morally courageous and compassion point of view. In his words;

We’re as free as we can be here in Bergen County, and powerful enough to bring social justice into a seder to cry out for a world that is not what it should be.

Remarkable, that a study of Passover should lead members of a congregation in a far off land, to feel compassion and sympathy to a people who in all likelihood they have never met. In the coming week, many Muslims in the Arab world will be praying five times a day and reading chapter after chapter of the Quran, and yet precious few will be moved to feel the sympathy and compassion for Syrians that Rabbi Pitkowsky expressed. The world, it seems, would be a much better place if more people spent time reading up on the lessons of Passover.

To read the extensive Times of Israel interview with Rabbi Pitkowsky, click here.

2016-04-23T22:02:38+00:00 April 23rd, 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|

Jewish Center of Princeton offers to house Syrian refugee family

jewish-center-of-princeton

NJ.com has an article on the offer by the Jewish Center of Princeton to provide housing for a Syrian refugee family, in the event of one being accepted for resettlement in the New Jersey area. The idea of housing a refugee family was first proposed to the congregation by Rabbi Adam Feldman during the last Sukkot holiday, a time associated with “creating peaceful shelters”.

The resettlement process to the USA is typical a lengthy one, taking at least two years for Syrian refugees, but shelter and housing are always the top priorities of any refugee family that resettle to the USA. To this end the Jewish Center of Princeton have been in contact with other agencies helping refugees in the New Jersey area, such as the HIAS and First Friends of New Jersey & New York Corp to help connect a refugee family with the center.

A congregation member,Melissa Hageri, expressed in a letter the sentiments behind the center’s desire to assist a Syrian refugee family;

We know what it means to be homeless, made to leave places we once called home and to wander seeking freedom.  We have been, at various times in our history, refugees and strangers in strange lands.

To read the entire article click here.

2016-02-02T19:03:35+00:00 February 2nd, 2016|

Auschwitz survivor Gene Klein; “make a human connection to today’s refugees”

Gene-Klein

Gene Klein, Holocaust survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and author.

Gene Klein is a resident of Florida, and a survivor of the notorious Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in which over a million Jews were murdered. He is a frequent speaker and author (with his daughter) of the book  “We Got the Water: Tracing my Family’s Path through Auschwitz.”

The San Diego Jewish World website republished an article by Mr Klein, calling on Americans to put aside “presidential candidates fanning the flames of fear” who are “falling over themselves to outdo their rivals’ xenophobia”, and instead “make a human connection to today’s refugees”.

To Mr Klein, the fact that Germany, the country that in the past was responsible for his suffering and the murder of 100 of 107 extended family members, is today welcoming refugees from Syria, is proof of the possibility that “the world can change for the better”

imagine, if you found yourself in their situation, what it would mean to be welcomed to a new country where you could live once more in peace and safety. Like me, you would be devoted to your new home. You would be honored to serve in this country’s military, be eager to work hard to make a contribution to your community, and be forever grateful for the opportunity to raise your children to uphold the values of freedom and tolerance.

Mr Klein relates his own history as a prisoner of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and subsequently as a refugee fleeing Soviet territorial expansion into his homeland of Hungary. After two years displaced to Austria, Mr Klein and his relatives were allowed to seek refuge in the USA.

Still recovering from the deprivations of the concentration camps, and the poverty of the displaced persons’ camp, I was stunned when I opened [a relatives’] refrigerator. To this day I keep a photograph of the well-stocked shelves.

To read the entire article click here.

2016-01-27T23:36:00+00:00 January 27th, 2016|

Maryland based HIAS’ advocacy for the refugee program

hias

HIAS, a Jewish refugee aid agency based in Maryland, USA, has launched a campaign to lobby members of the US Congress to reject proposed restrictions on the refugee program.

Members of the public are encouraged to call their senators and members of congress to reject current proposals to curtail or reduce the scope of the program that accepts refugees into the USA.

As a rule, refugees are victims of terrorism, not perpetrators of terrorism. It is imperative that we are able to tell the difference and help those who have suffered. The U.S. government handpicks the refugees who resettle here, and refugees are the most thoroughly vetted people to come to the United States.

HIAS was established in 1881 to lend assistance to Jews fleeing persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe. Over the last 134 years the scope of its activities has expanded to include helping refugees from Southeast Asia, Iran and Bosnia.

2016-01-07T22:17:43+00:00 January 7th, 2016|

As Republicans Reject Syrian Refugees, US Jewish Community Responds With Solidarity, Support

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to be exploited by politicians in the USA, the International Business Times ran an article reporting that many American Jewish community leaders have been calling on the country’s elected officials to infact do more, and not less, for those fleeing the war in Syria.

…for many Americans Jews, the idea of turning away people in need potentially because of their religion has sent an alarming message. The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that works to protect civil rights for Jews and other minorities, issued a statement Tuesday condemning the governors who said they would reject Syrian refugees.

“The people fleeing Syria are fleeing the same types of terrorists that did these attacks in France last week,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of ADL said Wednesday. “We need to have effective screenings for refugees, we need to look at the multi-layered process to make sure it works. But ADL works on behalf of all people regardless of how they look, where they’re from, who they love. The idea of discriminating against refugees based on their faith strikes us as very un-American.”

Georgette Bennett, founder of the Multifaith Alliance For Syrian Refugees, noted the very real dangers of leaving young children in the refugee camps open to the very extremism that has ravaged so much of the Middle East.

Read the entire article here

2016-01-06T10:27:22+00:00 January 6th, 2016|

New Jersey Synagogue Invites Syrian Refugees to Chinese Dinner on Christmas

Published by Forward.com

A New Jersey synagogue had recently arrived Syrian refugees join them for what has become Jewish tradition on Christmas: Chinese Food.

“As Jews, we all come from refugee families and we know in our bones what it’s like to have hateful rhetoric directed toward us,” said Rabbi Tepperman of Montclair N.J.’s Bnai Keshet, whose members organized the gathering for 10 families, all Muslim. “Many of our parents were Holocaust refugees.”

“Members of our congregation and people throughout the Jewish community have really felt called to help the refugees,” Tepperman told NJ.com.

The Friday evening event coincided with the Sabbath and began with started with blessings over candles and challah bread, the news site reported.

Read the entire article here

2016-01-06T02:20:32+00:00 January 6th, 2016|