Over the past few weeks, I have been preparing for Passover with a tremendous mix of emotions. I am delighted to once again share the traditional story of our liberation and exodus with my family and friends, but I am saddened to think of how many people around the world are still fighting for their own liberation and enduring their own exodus. This weekend, as I sit reclining, there will be those who are fleeing. When we recall how the sea opened for our people, I will undoubtedly think about the recent tragic voyages by sea and those we will unfortunately hear about in the future.
I know that my thoughts are similar to those of many others at Holy Blossom – especially those who have joined together to sponsor Syrian refugees. Since September, we have been meeting, learning, raising funds, collecting household goods, and making lists of volunteers with special skills to help our families when they arrive. Just this week, we were finally able to meet with the Toronto-based husband and wife who completed refugee applications for 25 members of their extended family. They shared with us amazing personal details of the seven people in two families who we will be supporting when they arrive from Turkey.
Our first family is the parents of the man we met at the JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Services) office. His father is 76 years old and his mother 71. In Syria, his father was an avid gardener who had a rooftop garden (with watermelons among other things); he is a retired house painter and artist with a love of painting murals. We were told that his mother has an excellent sense of humour and a passion for playing cards. She loves being surrounded by her children and grandchildren. This couple does not speak any English.
Our second family consists of this couple’s granddaughter, who is 28 years old, and her family. She is a homemaker who speaks some English; she would like to have any job that has to do with children. Her husband, is 37 years old, trained as a lawyer but worked as a teacher and also in the government services in the transportation area. He speaks English. Their three sons are 8 years old, 6 years old, and almost 3 years old. The three boys have not been in school since they left Syria in 2013.
One of the most frequent questions we hear is “When are they coming to Canada?” JIAS indicated that interviews of the family by Canadian officials are expected to occur soon, although that could be anytime from a week to a month (or more) from now. Once the interviews happen, it will be another one to five months until arrival. We expect to receive notification of travel that will be anywhere from one day to two weeks prior to the families’ arrival in Canada. We are now in communication with the local Toronto family and are researching accommodations near their home (in the DVP and Lawrence area).
Another question we hope to keep hearing is “How can I help?” There is still much to be done and many more families who need to find sponsors. Please reach out to me or Rabbi Satz to discuss the many ways for you to be involved.
I want to end with a special reading for Passover from the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Seder Supplement.
Emboldened to welcome refugees into our communities, may we remember that true welcome is not completed upon a person’s safe arrival in our country but in all the ways we help people to rebuild their lives. As God provided for our needs on the long journey from slavery to the Promised Land, let us give the refugees in our communities the tools they need not just to survive but to thrive: safe homes to settle into, quality education for their children, English language tutoring, access to jobs, and all of the things we would want for ourselves and our families. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who gives us the opportunity to be your partner in ongoing redemption.