Maple Leaf Wisdom by ShareGood Blogger David Weiss
The world was appalled at the picture of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, lying face down after his failed attempt to escape ISIS. Kurdi, along with his mother and brother, drowned last September while trying to cross the Mediterranean to safety. Canadians were particularly horrified when they learned that his family had been hoping to come to their country. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister at the time), was asked about this and he replied “We could drive ourselves crazy with grief if we look at the millions of people in danger.”
Was Harper right? Is it better to just ignore it?
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom in Vancouver took the opportunity to give his Yom Kippur sermon about the importance of helping Syrian refugees come to Canada. Rabbi Moskovitz said “I expected some push back from people that would feel this was not a Jewish problem, that we’re importing people—Muslims in particular—who have it in for the Jews and for Israel,” he said. “But I also knew we were all affected by what we had seen and heard in the media, and a slumber had sort of crept over us over the last four or five years, where we hadn’t paid much attention to this conflict and the crisis it was creating for families.”
The Synagogue raised $40,000 in two days and immediately raised its goal to $80,000. Canada is the only country in the world with a sponsorship program allowing groups of individuals and community organizations to bring refugees into the country. The program was introduced in 1979, in response to the crisis surrounding the Vietnamese boat people. Privately sponsored families still have to be recognized as legitimate refugees by the United Nations and their applications are processed/approved by the federal government. In all, two dozen Canadian congregations, mostly Reform, have become involved in sponsoring Syrian refugees.
Rabbi Moskovitz said in his sermon, “Look, 36 times in the Torah we are commanded to love the stranger, because we were once strangers in the land. You don’t repeat something 36 times in the Torah unless it’s really important. We are supposed to see the suffering of others as though it were ours.”
Shaarei-Beth El synagogue in Oakville, Ontario has been working for months with a local church and mosque to sponsor a Syrian family together. Aliya Khan, a Professor of Medicine and active Mosque leader said “we hadn’t formally worked together. It was sad that it took such a catastrophe. Our institutions have the same values, we have the same beliefs, and we need to reach out to each other and work together.” The groups organized a meeting at the synagogue, and began a very open discussion about what might be possible. Together, the three organizations in Oakville raised $34,000.
Canadians elected a new, more Human Rights friendly government in October of 2015. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a firm, compassionate stand. Prime Minister Trudeau underscored his government’s commitment to bringing in “those fleeing persecution, terror & war”. In addition to letting in 40,000 Syrian Refugees, Canada will take in those refugees shut out by the United States.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ushered in a new era. Or perhaps a new era ushered in Justin Trudeau. Rabbi Moskovitz and Aliyah Khan are just two of the many Canadian citizens who are committed to Human Rights and human decency. When you have a strong ethical leader, support from the religious community and a vibrant group of caring citizens great things will happen. #WelcomeToCanada is trending on Twitter and hopefully the spirit will trend everywhere.
David Weiss was born, raised and still lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being the grandson of four Holocaust Survivors has always been an integral part of his identity and life. David earned a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Cardinal Stritch University and a Masters of Arts in Education from Viterbo University. He spent eleven years as a second and third grade teacher before starting his own promotions business. David is also an author and teaches at the college level. David and his wife are the proud parents of a six year old daughter.
More from David Weiss HERE.