In December, Rabbi Michael Satz and our Director of Youth Engagement Lisa Isen Baumal brought some of our teens to participate in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s L’Taken Seminar in Washington, DC. They learned about social issues and how our Jewish values inform our responses to them.
Our teens got the opportunity to speak about issues of their choosing to officials at the Canadian embassy in DC. These are three of the speeches:
Avishai Sol: Two months ago I was told that my synagogue was privately hosting a Syrian refugee family. Two months ago I basically knew what the war in Syria was fought over, power, religion, control. I knew more then most Canadian teenagers. Maybe because, as a Jew, I pay closer attention to any country in Israel’s immediate neighbourhood, maybe because the intensity of the conflict could draw the eye of even the most conservative of critics, maybe because us as Jews, have been refugees longer then we’ve been nearly anything else. Two months ago I knew a lot about what, when, where, but I knew nearly nothing about “who”. Maybe, the most important pronoun of the bunch. I knew no exception to the ignorance that was my personal relationship with Syrians, so I was able to brush off the conflict with little consequence.
Three and a half weeks after I was told that refugees were coming to Toronto, to my city, and my synagogue, I first met them in maybe the most Jewish way possible. We invited them to Brunch. Between the bagels and lox, and the Halloween decorations, it must have seemed so north american to the Syrian family of five. And how strange it must have been for them to see that Jews are not what their government tells them we are. I and my two brothers ended up getting along famously with the three younger boys. But I think the most important thing I took away that day was not teaching the boys to carve pumpkins, but was my new personal connection to the refugee crisis. That refugees are not numbers on a page, but people, children, with everything in common with you or me. I think we often hesitate to bring in refugees because we only ever seem to see them in the news or on TV, we never really see the kind of happiness we can give these people, or how, with a little insight, we can easily put ourselves in their shoes. Not that I presume to understand Christmas, but wouldn’t a chance at a new life be the greatest holiday gift you could give? And not just to them but to yourself and your family. And last of all, if three little boys can change be my entire perspective on an international crisis think about what two million could do to yours. Two months have gone by since I first heard that refugees were coming to my community, and I pride myself in being able to count myself among the lucky few who understand the “who” of the refugee crisis.
Jacob Crawford Ritchie: My family has had the privilege to be able to privately sponsor a Syrian refugee family. Being able to help a family of 6 in need has been an extremely enriching experience. With the aid of a translator and the Canadian government, my family was successfully able to complete immigration, housing, and medical forms. Another resource that was helpful in resettling the Sullyman family came to a surprise to me. The app “whats App” was able to provide communication between us, the “rising tide sponsorship group” and our refugee family the Sullymans. This was only possible because their family members were settled in Toronto a few weeks before. Using these resources, we were able to find out medical information which turned out being crucial when we found out one of the children “Rame” had a pacemaker under her skin for several weeks that she received at a refugee camp in Turkey. The area had gotten infected during their travels. The information we received was able to give us a chance to find a specialist appointment for the day after arrival into Canada.
The Sullymans bounced around camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey finally arriving in Canada on may 27, 2016. The Sullyman family had an apartment in Aleppo which is one of the major fighting points, The father named Ahmed worked in a kitchen, he was the sole provider for the family. The mother Iman was high school educated and was going into colleges before she had kids. The family had decided to leave when they witnessed their cousin/ nephew blown out of an apartment window. This sight was a shock and forced them to take action. After being in Toronto for 6 or so months, the Sullyman family continues to settle in. The kids Rame age 12, Muhamed age 11, Osmen age 8 are all enrolled in school doing ESL courses learning English at an astonishing rate. The youngest ayes age 2 is still at home with her parents Iman the mom, and the dad Ahmed who both also take ESL courses. Settling into a new environment has been a challenge for all refugees. Canada has done an amazing job supporting Syrian refugees and i hope that the government will continue to support people in need around the world.
Adam Oaknine: As a Jewish Canadian, with ancestors who have been thrown out of just about everywhere, it’s not hard to relate with the current refugee crisis. My grandparents and great grandparents on both sides of my family arrived in Canada as refugees fleeing from antisemitism in Morocco and Poland. Jewish tradition is clear on the treatment of immigrants. Our own people’s history as strangers living in others’ lands reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today, and we are committed to creating the same opportunities for today’s refugees that were valuable to our own community not so many years ago. Central Jewish teachings include principles such as Piddyon Shevuyim (redeeming the captive), Chesed (kindness), and Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality).
Further, “welcoming the stranger” is the most repeated commandment in our Torah. Many of our people came to the United States and to Canada as refugees from religious prosecution. Having struggled to adjust to a society that did not always welcome our arrival, we appreciate the problems faced by today’s refugees. In 1985, the Union for Reform Judaism affirmed a resolution supporting refugee resettlement. The Torah teaches us to reach out to and care for vulnerable populations; “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21). Our Jewish values inform our democratic values in Canada, and how we react to the present refugee epidemic.