Home News Canada Montreal Jews and Muslims unite to help Syrian refugees

Montreal Jews and Muslims unite to help Syrian refugees

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, left, and Shaheen Ashraf find inspiration in Judaism and Islam in their work for refugees. JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, left, and Shaheen Ashraf find inspiration in Judaism and Islam in their work for refugees JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

Jews and Muslims can find common cause in assisting Syrian refugees, and in doing so, appreciate the similarity of their religious values.

That was the message conveyed at a meeting of members of the two communities addressed by Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, and Shaheen Ashraf, secretary of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Montreal chapter.

About 50 people attended the event at the Atwater Library on Dec. 15, convened by the new Jewish-Muslim Forum of Montreal.

It was the first open event of the group, which is an initiative of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), in partnership with CRARR (Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations), a local non-profit organization that has been combating discrimination for more than 30 years.


Since 2008, FFEU has fostered Muslim-Jewish dialogue around the world, including in Toronto, organizing “twinning” events annually in November and December. This year, such events took place in more than 30 cities, said Walter Ruby, director of the program.

The temple was the first Montreal Jewish group to commit to sponsoring refugees. It announced in September that it would sponsor at least one family and undertake to raise a minimum of $30,000.

Rabbi Grushcow said the congregation is now hoping to sponsor three families. All the paperwork has been done for the first family and most of it for the second, she said. The temple is now trying to identify a third family to sponsor. As is the norm, the temple does not know when the families will arrive, and temple members may be given as little as 24 hours notice.

The response from the 900-member Reform congregation was beyond expectations. Officially launched on the first day of Rosh Hashanah – a Monday – the project raised $25,000 by that Friday and more than $40,000 by Yom Kippur, Rabbi Grushcow said. At the end of the month, the total was close to $70,000.

Moreover, temple members are eager to lend their expertise, including immigration lawyers David Berger and David Cohen, or volunteer in other ways during the year after the refugees arrive, a process that’s part of the sponsorship commitment.

Sponsors must identify specific people they want to assist. Rabbi Grushcow said the temple’s refugees were found through relatives living in Montreal. For their security, she did not want to publicize details about them, but it can be made known that they are coming from refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. One family has five children. There is a pharmacist and a French teacher among the parents. And they are Muslim.

An opportunity to build relationships with Muslims

Rabbi Grushcow said the congregation never made religion a consideration, but the attitude outside has not been so open.

“People quietly ask, ‘Are they Christian or Muslim? Christians are a minority and are being persecuted, and are you sure Muslims want to be sponsored by a synagogue?’”

Others have been less polite, even Islamophobic, she has found. “They hate us, they may be dangerous – are you sure you want to do this?” she quoted some as saying.

“My response is that the only relevant question is that we are people of faith, and the Torah calls upon us to welcome the stranger,” Rabbi Grushcow said, and this crisis speaks to our common humanity.

She added that this is an opportunity to build relationships with Muslims and get beyond stereotypes.

Ashraf said Islam also teaches that its adherents must help the stranger, especially those who are the victims of oppression.

“This welcoming gesture will give Canada a good name again in the world, especially the Middle East, where it is sorely needed,” she said, adding that Canada has shown “political courage and vision at a time when xenophobia in Europe and the United States is growing.”

Muslims and Jews, as “children of Abraham,” should “be in step with each other.” Ashraf said she is already pitching in with some Jewish individuals who are sponsors.

This event served as a chance for those involved with refugee relief to get to know each other.

In practical terms, Rabbi Grushcow said Jews and Muslims can begin by sharing their expertise, for example in legal matters, and co-ordinating their efforts.

The other participants included Bilal Hamideh, a board member of the Canadian Muslim Forum and Canadian Alliance for Syrian Aid steering committee member; and Karen Mock of Toronto, representing the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, which works with the FFEU.

An unscheduled intervenor who was warmly welcomed was Muhamad Al Bukaai, who identified himself as a Syrian refugee who arrived three months earlier. He thanked everyone for what they are doing to help other refugees.

Ruby also congratulated Canadians generally for their “human decency” in contrast to the “anti-Muslim demagogy” in the United States.

READ: Victoria shul raises funds to sponsor Syrian family

“That you are welcoming 25,000 refugees is mind-boggling, when my country can’t even get it together to take 10,000,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Jewish community, the Reconstructionist Congregation Dorshei Emet is trying to raise $30,000 to qualify as a refugee sponsor and has begun the process of selecting individuals or a family, as required by the federal government.

The modern Orthodox Adath Israel Congregation has been collecting clothing and personal care products to donate to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Rabbi Michael Whitman said an individual he can vouch for will take the goods directly to Jordan for distribution.


  • nopeacenow

    The Syrian media has been notoriously anti-Semitic, and there is little doubt that the Syrian public has been influenced by it. There are frequent anti-Semitic articles and caricatures in the Syrian media, including classical anti-Semitic stereotypes, comparisons of Israel with the Nazis, and Holocaust denial. After Roger Garaudy, the French denier of the Holocaust was invited to Damascus by the Ministry of Information, the government-owned newspaper Tishrin praised Mr. Garaudy for “exposing the lies of the Zionist movement which exaggerated what happened to Jews during the Second World War for political purposes. The mosques too, have been disseminators of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred, which have infected the Syrian populace, and therefore the refugees.

  • TerrorIsEvil

    I would be impressed were the leftist Jews seeking praise
    and love from Islamists receiving some assurances that the Islamists (who are impossible to vet properly) will not be bringing their Jew hate with them to Canada. I guess that would be asking too much and the Jews involved refuse to see the mass graves of Jews killed by
    terrorists which were instigated by Islamic countries in the entire region.

    For decades Israel and Jews have been Syria’s #1 target of war and terrorism. Syria has given refuge and housing to the terrorists in the PLO and Hamas top brass – some carried out major terror attacks such as Munich. Syria has made alliances with Hezbollah and Iran. There
    is an Intifada taking place today in Israel that is being completely ignored by leftists in Canada
    who prefer to save Muslims over Jews who are being slashed and mashed under
    car tires driven by Muslim attackers.

    We do not owe the Islamists anything and no amount of kindness and concern will change the books that they follow which repeatedly demand Jews be conquered, killed or made into dhimmis.

    There are many refugees among the minorities in the region and from other parts of the world who we ignore. They are rejected by Muslims and do-gooders in Canada who look the other way when they are Christians, Yazidis or Kurds. There are Jewish families who are suffering because loved ones were killed by Islamists – but there is no campaign by shuls here to give them a helping hand.

    I would like to see Jewish people making alliances with their own rather than pandering to leftists who think that all we have to do is open our hearts to msulims and all will be healed and peace will break out upon the earth.

    ISIS said that they would dump refugees on the West in their emigration for jihad plan – the people in Canada who are now facilitating and involved with this plan must be held responsible if any of the asylum seekers become involved in a terrorist attack.

  • TerrorIsEvil

    There were another three stabbings in Jerusalem today by the same kind of Islamists
    who populate the entire region.

    Where is the outpouring of sympathy and charity for the families of Israeli families
    whose lives have been turned upside down because of the ongoing Islamist terrorism
    in Israel? Why do shuls in Canada have such abundant concern for Muslims who
    are now safely in camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon but no concern for
    Christians, Yazidis, and the minorities being wiped out by the Muslims? Why not
    help them where they are rather than bring a token number to Canada? Why not
    bring the Palestinians to Canada first to alleviate that refugee problem that
    was also created by Arab countries? Why do these shuls have so much sympathy
    for those who booted out every Jew from Syria and almost all Jews from other
    Islamic countries while at the same time Israel felt compelled to make over 1
    million residents and citizens of Israel?

    Why should I care about people who have in their holy books “death to Israel,”
    death to Jews”? Why would we want more Islamic students in Canada chanting “from
    the river to the sea Palestine will be free”? What assurances do we have that
    the refugees have been properly vetted when it is impossible to do so in the
    war zone which is the entire region? When have Muslims ever helped Jews to live
    as free people in the Land of Israel without their Islamist terrorists killing

    No, I would rather the shuls carefully select minorities to bring to Canada or to
    help them in the camps because the entire token effort is just a way to make us
    feel good about ourselves but if we really wanted to end the crisis we would be
    defeating ISIS and saving the minorities who are rejected by the groups we are
    now bringing to Canada. The people we are bringing in are some of the same
    people who will be first in line to condemn Jews/Israel and propagandize/terrorize
    them at every opportunity.