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Canadian Jewish Community Welcomes the Country's First Syrian Refugees

Canadian Jewish Community Welcomes the Country's First Syrian Refugees

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"You are home. Welcome home."

This is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said to the first resettled Syrian refugees as they arrived in Toronto earlier this month. In response to the largest global refugee crisis since World War II, with 60 million people displaced worldwide, including over 11 million from Syria and the Middle East, Canada has pledged to resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of February 2016, including 10,000 by the end of this year. Compared to the commitment of the U.S. to accept 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016, this is an ambitious goal, but one that has been received with widespread support from communities throughout Canada.

As he entered Canada, Kevork Jamkossian, who arrived with his wife and 16-month old daughter, spoke with great appreciation saying, “We suffered a lot. Now, we feel as if we got out of hell and we came to paradise.” Reflecting on the experience, Prime Minister Trudeau said, “We get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult straits.”

Similar to governmental leadership on this issue, the Jewish community in Canada has also taken great strides in their response to this crisis. Unlike currently in the United States, individuals and groups can privately sponsor refugees, arranging their housing, education and all resettlement needs. Almost all of Canada’s Reform Jewish synagogues are working together to host and resettle Syrian refugee families as they arrive in Canada in the coming months.

As Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal said in her Rosh HaShanah sermon,

“Our High Holy Day prayers include the words, 'Who by fire, who by water?' in contemplation of our own mortality. I cannot say those words this year without seeing Alan Kurdi, drowned in the Aegean Sea. I cannot say those words and know that we could have helped, and did nothing. The only relevant religious question here is what our beliefs and values tell us to do.”

Rabbi Dan Moscovitz of Temple Sholom in Vancouver also called on his congregation to take action over the High Holidays, as he said in his Kol Nidre sermon, “I want to ask you to save a life, the life of a stranger – because we were once strangers in the land, because we are human beings and that is the only similarity that we really need.”

Both sermons, and those of many more rabbis throughout the world during the High Holidays, highlighted a deeply-felt Jewish obligation to help those across the globe, fleeing their homes in fear.

Whether we live in the United States or Canada, we must and we can take action to welcome those seeking a safe haven in our country. As Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, said,

To sit at our [Passover] Seder tables every year and [tell] the story [starting with] ‘my father was a wandering Aramean,’ and to live through 5,000 years as a community of refugees, not to model for the world what it means to welcome the stranger would be an abdication of our legacy.”

Check out the Religious Action Center’s Refugee Crisis Response Page and take action to support refugee resettlement in both Canada and the United States. U.S. congregations can also partner with a Canadian congregation to help them welcome a new Syrian refugee family.

Rachel Landman is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rachel is from Brooklyn, NY, where she is a member of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. She graduated from Hamilton College.

Rachel Landman

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