January 2016 - Syrian Refugees
Our Sages taught: “A bit of light pushes much of the darkness aside.” My Canadian friends. Phyllis and Joel Greenberg, are living this aphorism along with many others in their country. A year ago the Greenbergs learned about a program whereby Canadian citizens can sponsor Syrian refugee families. They worked through their synagogue, our Reconstructionist affiliate in Toronto. They needed sixty people with $500 and a commitment to help settle and guide their family. The money collected would pay for housing, furnishings, and clothing to be purchased by synagogue participants. In addition, synagogue members would find employment for the parents, help them with government forms, and connect them to utilities, to banking services and to ESL classes. Others would help integrate the family’s children into schools and extracurricular activities. A representative from the Canadian Government will be at the airport to greet the family when they arrive, and to present them with their social and medical insurance cards. The Greenbergs expect their family to arrive by the end of the month. Having far too many people and too much money in response to the synagogue’s initial call, the congregation will sponsor a second family in the spring. Darchei Noam, the Greenberg’s congregation, is but one of many communities that are sponsoring the settlement of refugee families. The embrace of Syrian refugees has been wide-spread throughout Canada’s provinces.
Four million Syrians have been forced to leave their country since 2011. Canada will receive 25,000 of these refugees this year. Greeting the first group who arrived in Toronto two weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed them with winter coats and the words “You’re safe at home now. You step off the plane as refugees, but you walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada.” Then he directed his remarks to his fellow Canadians: “This is a wonderful night where 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 extraordinary difficult straights.”
While we in America cannot see our way to take in even those 10,000 refugees we promised we would, the least we can do is give a gift in the form of tribute to our northern neighbors. I know a statue that now rests in New York Harbor that given present circumstances, might better stand in Lake Ontario. Its pedestal bears the legend of Jewish immigrant, Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, / your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In Canada, the light of compassion and generosity will dispel the darkness for at least 25,000 of the “tempest-tost” and for the tens of thousands more who will help bring them to that safe harbor. May we, too, be worthy of Lady Liberty – not for our own sake, but for the sake of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”