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|

IL4Syria;the Israelis who succeeded where the UN & “anti-ISIS” coalition failed

With the brutal Syrian conflict entering its sixth year, the plight of civilians trapped by the war inside the country has grown increasingly more desperate, with entire neighborhoods and towns besieged by the Syrian Army and its Hizbollah & Iranian terrorist allies.

International efforts to provide relief and assistance to civilians trapped by the war have amounted to little; UN aid to areas affected by the conflict has been less than a trickle, the vast amount having been appropriated by the regime to distribute among its own supporters, with very little aid actually reaching besieged communities. Time and again, diplomatic squabbling and the UN’s own desire to avoid alienating the Assad regime have worked to strangle any meaningful assistance to civilians who have endured years of siege and starvation tactics, in addition to indiscriminate bombings of hospitals, schools, aid clinics and bakeries, first from the regime’s airforce and more recently at the hands of Russian warplanes.

And the “anti-ISIS” coalition currently running bombing raids all over Syria haven’t been much better. Apparently, the entire combined air-forces of the “coalition” cannot manage to airdrop life saving basic supplies such as bread and water to civilians who have been besieged by the regime for years.

And yet where the UN and the “anti-ISIS” coalition have so abjectly failed, a group of a couple of hundred Israeli civilian aid workers have succeeded, managing the superhuman and heroic feat of transporting life saving food, survival kits and even medical equipment for entire clinics to deep within Syria, assisting communities which have borne the brunt of the joint regime-Hizbollah-Iranian-Russian onslaught.

Israel21C published an article extensively detailing the astounding efforts of IL4Syria, an Israeli NGO of around 200 Israeli volunteers, and who have been providing aid to Syrian civilians affected by the war since the earliest days of the conflict. From providing such basic items as food, baby powder and medical supplies, IL4Syria’s efforts evolved as the conflict grew more brutal.

The list of assistance provided by IL4Syria is remarkable;supplies for 17 field hospitals, the training of Syrian civil defense volunteers,thousands of chemical suits to help doctors treat patients affected by the repeated regime chemical weapons attacks on civilian areas, 3D printers to print out prosthetic limbs. More assistance has been provided to besieged Syrians by the small group of Israeli volunteers than the entire UN has managed, with its hopelessly broken system of appeasement of and collusion with the Assad dictatorship.

The dangers these Israeli volunteers risk cannot be overstated. The Syrian war is by far and away the most brutal conflict in decades, with much of the country overrun by Hizbollah, Iranian mercenaries, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other terror groups in open hostility to Israel. And yet the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians who have benefited from IL4Syria‘s assistance would undoubtedly not be alive today were it not for that aid.

History will record that while the UN dithered for years and the “anti-ISIS” coalition remained oblivious to the ordeal of Syrians trapped by the war, it was Israeli volunteers who provided life saving assistance to civilians in need. The scope of the efforts, and the dangers the volunteers risked to deliver them, are truly heroic. And without a doubt, history will regard the efforts and work of the Israeli volunteers of IL4Syria to help Syrians trapped by the war, as one of the greatest feats of humanitarian assistance ever carried out.

To read the entire Israel21c article, click here.

2016-02-27T23:38:50+00:00 February 27th, 2016|

Dramatic video of IsraAID teams helping refugees on Lesbos

israaid_greece_lesbos1

The Kikar Ha Shabat web portal posted a very dramatic video of an IsraAID medical team treating and assisting refugees on the very beaches of the Greek island of Lesbos, literally the front line of the refugee crisis. The description of the ordeals the refugees go through to reach Lesbos are harrowing to say the least. Mistreated and exploited by smugglers in Turkey, refugees are crowded 150 on boats meant for only a third of that number, with barely enough fuel in the engine to reach halfway to Greece.

But those who manage to reach Lesbos find a well organized and highly efficient IsraAID team of medical and aid volunteers. Boats are tracked as soon as they come into binocular range, and medical assistance, warm cloth and sustenance is provided the moment the refugees are helped out of the boats onto the beach. And the comfort and relief a refugee experiences on finding Arabic speakers among the rescue team cannot be overstated.

Nor the personal risks that the IsraAID team members run. Needless to say, they have no idea who they will be meeting on the beaches of Lesbos on any given day, only that they will be strangers, not just from Syria, but from other countries that have traditionally been hostile to Jews and Israelis.

And that they are strangers in need of help. After days and possibly weeks of being exploited at the hands of remorseless human smugglers, and risking their lives on a terrifying journey to a strange land, the welcome and assistance provided by the IsraAID volunteers is something no refugee will forget for the rest of their lives.

To see the video in its entirety click here.

2016-02-23T20:05:34+00:00 February 23rd, 2016|

Tablet Magazine; Canadian Jewish congregations & their efforts to sponsor Syrian refugees

Photo by Tablet Magazine

Photo by Tablet Magazine

Tablet Magazine has an excellent article by Philip Moscovitch on the recent efforts by Canadian-Jewish congregations to sponsor and support Syrian refugee families to resettle in Canada. From Vancouver to Alberta, Toronto and Montreal, and many smaller towns and cities, more than two dozen congregations have raised funds and committed to sponsoring Syrian families under Canada’s Private Sponsorship Program.

With no similar program in place in the USA, Jewish congregations in the USA with a desire to assist Syrian refugees, such as the Community Synagogue of Rye, New York, have contributed to the efforts of their Canadian counterparts with huge monetary donations.

The understandable apprehension and ambivalence of many in the Canadian Jewish community to bringing in families from a region whose people have traditionally been hostile to Jews is acknowledged in the article. As one Temple Sholom said; “I don’t hate Muslims, but I am afraid.”

Which makes the efforts by Canada’s Jewish communities to assist Syrians all the more remarkable. The highest expression of humanity is to help a stranger when every survival instinct tells one not to, to take responsibility for a family who may have spent their lives in an environment with values in stark contrast to your own, to give so much effort, time and money on a people who have nothing to offer back except their thanks. The generous sentiments of Jewish communities, in Canada and around the world towards Syrian refugees is not only remarkable, it is miraculous.

To read the original Tablet Magazine article, click here.

2016-02-21T05:15:20+00:00 February 21st, 2016|

Operation Ezra; the efforts of Winnipeg’s Jewish communities to save Yazidi families

Operation Ezra

 

The Canadian Jewish News has an article on the massive efforts by Winnipeg’s Jewish community to sponsor Yazidi families for resettlement in Canada. Working under the name Operation Ezra, the initiative combines the efforts of Winnipeg’s Jewish congregations and groups, including the newly formed “Winnipeg United with Israel“, to save as many Yazidi families as possible.

To date, the initiative has raised over $180,000, enough to sponsor 35 individuals. The first two Yazidi families have been given approval by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to travel to Winnipeg, and should be arriving soon.

There is no doubt that the Yazidi community has been subjected to a genocide at the hands of the so-called self-styled “Islamic State”. But even those Yazidis who have managed to flee Daesh face discrimination and hostility even among other refugee populations. The only ethnic group in the Middle East not to have their own self-protection militias, the Yazidis have been mercilessly persecuted by other groups in the region. Yazidi women and girls captured by Daesh have been exploited as sex slaves, while Yazidi men were massacred on a genocidal scale.

Operation Ezra, which shares its name with the 1950s rescue of 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel via Cyprus, is the Winnipeg Jewish community’s response to this massive humanitarian catastrophe. The Arab countries in the region have once again failed utterly to step up and counter the barbaric atrocities committed by other fellow Arabs. An ocean and continent away, Canadian Jews have yet again demonstrated humanity, compassion and an tireless energy in saving lives torn apart by a conflict that Canadians could have very easily ignored. In the darkness created by the Middle East’s conflicts, the light of humanity created by groups such as those involved in Operation Ezra shines that much more brightly.

To read the original CJN article, click here.

To read the Operation Ezra website, click here.

2016-02-18T00:09:44+00:00 February 18th, 2016|

Vice News’ in-depth report & video on Israeli hospital treating Syrians

 

A patient being transported to Ziv Medical Center by the IDF (Photo via Ziv Medical Center)

A patient being transported to Ziv Medical Center by the IDF (Photo via Ziv Medical Center)

Back in July 2015 Vice News published a 30 minute video and an in-depth report by Sara E. Williams on the medical care and treatment being provided to wounded Syrians by Israel’s Ziv Medical Center, a hospital just 40 minutes away from the border with Syria.

The report makes for remarkable reading. Of the more than 2,000 Syrians who were treated at Ziv since early 2013, over 340 were children. While amputations are the expected outcome for patients who are treated in Jordan, the Israeli medical teams in Ziv have managed to save all except a very few number of limbs. Among Syrians, Israeli hospitals have acquired a near legendary reputation. As one member of the staff at Ziv put it; “they think we can do miracles so they bring lost cases”.

And in Israel, political or military affiliation is never a factor in whether a patient receives treatment. True to the spirit and letter of the Hippocratic Oath, Israeli doctors do not withhold treatment based on political feelings. It is a far cry from the common practice in Syria itself, where wounded demonstrators would face torture or be killed outright if they ended up in a hospital controlled by the regime.

The community in which the hospital is located have also shown a tremendous amount of generosity towards the Syrian patients, donating items and funds for prosthetic limbs and dental surgery.

To read the lengthy report and see the video, click here.

2016-02-10T19:09:54+00:00 February 10th, 2016|

Winnipeg Jewish School sponsoring seven refugee families

Gray-Academy

 

Canadian CTV News has a video report on the Winnipeg based Gray Academy of Jewish Education’s sponsorship of seven refugee families, and the donation drive the student body undertook to ensure the families were supplied with household and kitchen items.

To mark its commemoration of Raul Wallenberg day (a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews) the school organized donations of utensils, towels, toothbrushes and toothpastes and other household items. In the words of one of the students “even if it’s with the little things, any little thing can help them out”

But to a refugee, no act of kindness is too little. Indeed, it is the “little” things that refugees remember. Unwelcoming shop keepers. Dirty looks on public transportation. Unfriendly and hostile neighbors. A refugee can survive in their host country only to the degree to which that society tolerates their presence. With their act of generosity, the students of Gray Academy are telling the families who will soon resettle in Winnipeg; “not only are you tolerated in our city, we welcome you as neighbors and friends, with open arms.”

To a refugee, a donated plate, table cloth or chair symbolizes far more than their material worth. Most refugees would be happy with indifference as opposed to hostility from the communities they settle in. But if household items could speak, each one donated by the students of Gray Academy would say “welcome to Canada.”

To see the CTV video report click here.

 

2016-02-07T20:12:39+00:00 February 7th, 2016|
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