Recent History —
Over the summer I met two young representatives of the local Vietnamese community. They sought us out because they wish to thank Holy Blossom Temple and to honour Professor Howard Adelman for helping their families settle in Toronto. A number of our congregants stepped forward then to sponsor and support, to donate professional services, to find housing and furnishings, to teach English and provide job opportunities for the newcomers. On November 11th we will host the Vietnamese community to mark the fortieth anniversary since the fall of Saigon, to celebrate their success in Canada, and to share memories of what it meant to give and receive.
In 1984, Rabbi W. Gunther Plautz”l was appointed by the Minister of Employment and Immigration to revise Canada’s refugee legislation. Rabbi Plaut’s 221-page report on “Refugee Determination in Canada,” began with a personal introduction: “I was a refugee once, having fled from Hitler under whose rule I had lived for more than two years. I came to the New World exactly 50 years ago, after finishing law school in Germany and having been deprived of pursuing my chosen profession because I was a Jew. In a miniscule fashion my own life rehearses the story of my people who have been refugees all too often. I know the heart of the refugee, a person who desperately seeks for a place to stand, for the opportunity to be accepted as an equal amongst fellow humans…. I belong to the fortunate ones whose quest has been generously answered. My personal experience and my own religious tradition have moved me to put on Canada’s national agenda the larger issues that arise from a consideration of refugees and their problems.”
Every single member of our congregation has his and her own story of migration. None of our family lines is indigenous to Canada. Against the backdrop of Jewish history, we are relative newcomers to this good country. Therefore, we Jews easily identify with the asylum seeker, the migrant, the refugee who searches for a better life and a place to call home. No matter his religion, no matter her country of origin, the empathy comes easily to us.
Ancient History —
This past Shabbat we studied the Torah portion Ki Tavo (see our text study dedicated in memory of three year old, Alan Kurdi). In anticipation of the good life in the good land of Israel, Moses instructs the people to share the land’s bounty with the vulnerable – the orphan and the widow as well as the foreigner, that is, “the stranger.” In fact, we are commanded to “enjoy” doing so. It is rare that Torah ascribes emotion to a mitzvah, but in the case of welcoming the stranger we must take pleasure in extending ourselves. To do so grudgingly, it seems, does not fulfill the mitzvah.
At the Kiddush-lunch, which followed, everyone was discussing what we should or should not do now? It is said that the Syrian refugee crisis is the worst the world has known since the Second World War. What small part might our congregation play in the lives of the four million Syrians running for their lives?
Since Shabbat my email box has been full of messages from congregants who want to help. Rabbi Satz will convene an open meeting on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 to begin the research and planning. I do not know where we will land, but I trust our congregation to do to the right thing.