Synagogues step up for refugees

Montreal's skyline

Members of two of Montreal’s liberal Jewish congregations have joined co-religionists in other Canadian cities to sponsor Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Canada.

With what organizers describe as “overwhelming generosity,” a campaign among members of Dorshei Emet, the Reconstructionist Congregation in Hampstead, has raised $90,000—enough to sponsor three families.

About 150 families, individual members and “many outside the community” contributed to the campaign.

Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount has raised $70,000 in a continuing campaign, with plans to sponsor three Syrian families.

Late last month, it began applying to sponsor the first family.

At the Temple, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow explained that caring for the stranger is the most frequent commandment in the Torah, the essential book in Judaism: “We know the heart of the stranger. We know what it is to be unwanted and unsafe, and we know it is incumbent on us to make the world a better place by helping others.”

The flight of some two million Syrians, either displaced within the country, or forced into camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, is considered the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

In Dorshei Emet’s case, the Montreal-based and multi-denominational Syrian Kids Foundation suggested the synagogue sponsor two of the families, who have relatives in Montreal.

Forced to flee the fighting at home, one family ended up in Lebanon, the other in Saudi Arabia. Both await final documents to make the journey here. A third family has yet to be selected.

Once they arrive, the synagogue committee will be asking for assistance to help find housing, jobs, clothing, toys, and social services for the families.

The commitment at the Temple is part of what Rabbi Grushcow describes as “a long and proud history of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We understand it to be a religious imperative, and we believe that we show our values by how we act. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”

Grushcow said her congregation is confident the Canadian government screening will be thorough, noting that “everyone is conscious of security concerns – most of all the refugees fleeing violence.

“The main message is that we want to do our part to help respond to this international crisis, and this very human tragedy,” Grushcow said.

“I don’t want to have to tell my children that we did nothing while entire families drowned or froze to death, trying to escape war and suffering. Our religious tradition and our shared humanity compel us to act.”

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