The Yazidis’ plight
The plight of the Yazidis is indeed heartbreaking, as Michael Diamond writes (“Who will stand up for the Yazidis?”). More needs to be done to help this threatened minority group. But I would like to take issue with the characterization of the Canadian Jewish community as “derelict” because so many of us are sponsoring refugee families who are not Yazidi.
Diamond writes that synagogues “rushed into the refugee project” without adequate consideration of who we are sponsoring. My own synagogue had a very thoughtful and considered discussion before deciding to sponsor a refugee family. Once we decided to sponsor, arguments were made and heard on the specific issue of whether we would only sponsor a religious minority.
We did feel it important to move the conversation along to a decision because of the urgency of the need and because so many of our members felt heartbroken about the unfolding tragedy of Syrian refugees, but I do not feel that we rushed in to this huge commitment thoughtlessly.
In the end, we decided to work with JIAS, because we have a high level of confidence in the professionalism of the agency and a great deal of comfort implementing our decision to help in the context of the Jewish community. We decided, after full consideration of ethical, religious and other factors, that we would work with the first JIAS refugee family that came up.
I am both proud of our refugee sponsorship efforts and acutely aware of how limited they are in the context of the overwhelming need. We were matched with a Kurdish family, and we look forward to welcoming them to their new lives in Canada sometime in the fall. I wish we could do more, including for the suffering Yazidis. I also wish we could do more for the millions of refugees from other countries who are also fleeing strife and persecution, and whose stories are receiving even less attention than that of the Yazidis. We will continue to look for opportunities to help, within the structures that exist.
Rabbi Edward Elkin
First Narayever Congregation
Setting the record straight
Having just presented a paper on it to the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies’ annual conference, I must correct the statement that there were some “half-dozen western Canadian Jewish farm colonies that operated from the late 1880s to the 1940s” (“But wait, there’s more: Phil Kives’ sales magic”).
There were 15 such concentrated settlements across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and another 16 smaller sites where fewer individual Jewish farmers took up “free” land being offered by the Canadian government’s Department of the Interior and by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Department of Immigration and Colonization. The first, known as “New Jerusalem”, was established near Moosomin, Assiniboia District (later Saskatchewan), Northwest Territories, in 1884, and likely the last was at Rosser, Man., in 1934. Some lasted only a few years, while others carried on into the 1950s.
The vanishing middle class
The article “What it’s like to be Jewish and middle class” grabbed my attention. I, along with many that I know, see a wealthy class and those with lower income. The middle class that existed when I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s has disappeared.
The cost of everything is so high – from rent or mortgage, to cars, food, medication, and gas – that a salary comes in, but quickly goes out. There is no money available for Jewish schools, kosher food or synagogue dues, which makes participating in the Jewish community very difficult.
Many like myself are secular Jews who focus on Jewish traditions and culture without being a member of a shul, or sending our kids to Jewish school or Jewish camps, as they are too expensive. We celebrate Jewish holidays with friends in each others’ homes and have discussions about Judaism and Israel among ourselves.
Jewish communities across Canada need to make changes. Synagogue fees should be donation-based or a small yearly fee. Seats for High Holiday services should not have an additional fee that is so high in cost, schools and summer camps should be affordable, and the community should offer more programs about Jewish traditions and culture that encourage Jews of all backgrounds and socioeconomic status to participate.