At the launch of a joint Jewish-Muslim initiative to sponsor two Syrian refugee families to resettle in the Toronto area, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum thanked the participants for their commitment to helping those in need.
“The collection of Muslims and Jewish people, coming together in a single room to work together for the national good, and for the good of the refugees – from the bottom of my heart, I really thank you all,” said McCallum, who spoke at Temple Har Zion synagogue in Thornhill at the March 6 launch of its refugee project in partnership with the mosque next door, the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre (IMIC).
Andrew Hazen, a co-chair of the THZ-IMIC Refugee Project, noted there are four million people trying to escape the civil war in Syria, and even those living in camps are still under threat.
He said the objective is to raise about $60,000 to sponsor two families through Jewish Immigrant Aid Service (JIAS) Toronto.
“[JIAS] has been doing this kind of work, helping refugees and immigrants resettle in this area for 100 years,” Hazen said, adding that the funds will go toward providing financial support for the families’ first year in Canada at the same level as government-assisted refugees.
Lia Kisel, JIAS’ language and settlement director, said JIAS requires 60 per cent of funds to be raised before the application to sponsor a family can be submitted.
But raising the funds is the easy part.
“The settlement plan is going to be created in partnership with Temple Har Zion. We not only need your assistance to secure the funds, but we need your assistance also to volunteer your time after the refugees arrive, which is when the real hard work begins, to settle and integrate the families,” Kisel said.
McCallum said the 25,000 refugees who have come to Canada are a “very vulnerable group.”
“They came from a list provided by the United Nations, and typically, they do not speak a word of English or French, they don’t have as much education, they have large numbers of children and they are probably on an airplane for the first time in their lives when they came to Canada,” he said.
Hazen said that in the months since the government announced its commitment to 25,000 welcome Syrian refugees, the question of security and screening has been a concern for many Canadians.
“We’ve looked at it carefully, and the folks who come through the refugee program are screened and vetted and interviewed and fingerprinted and photographed and run through databases by the UN. And then Canadian immigration officials do it all over again, making sure their stories match, their places match, names match, faces match and so on… Honestly, if someone with nefarious intentions wanted to get into the country, there are so many easier ways to do it than through the refugee program,” Hazen said.
Rabbi Cory Weiss spoke about the commandment in the Torah to love the stranger, “one whose colour, culture, creed is different from yours.”
He said in the Torah, there are 36 references to the commandment to love the stranger.
“‘You shall not oppress a stranger, for you understand the soul of the stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt,’” Rabbi Weiss said, quoting the Torah.
“Jews certainly understand this feeling. The phrase, ‘None is too many,’ was coined for us, for our ancestors trying to flee Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Only 4,000 Jewish refugees were permitted in Canada before and during World War II. We know, all too well, the fate that befell the rest who tried to come, but were stopped at the door,” he said.
McCallum spoke about his emotional experience meeting refugee children in Jordan, seeing the conditions they were living in, and then welcoming them when they arrived in Canada.
“I think in a time when so many countries are closing their doors on refugees, it is good that we are saying, as long as we are doing it right, they are welcome. I think it sends a message to the world that the world needs sending,” McCallum said.
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