Our friend Janis Roth died on April 29, after a brief but valiant battle against cancer.
In her role as the executive director of JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Services), Janis moved mountains to make people’s lives better. There are refugees here today from all walks of life who were rescued by Janis.
We first met as professional colleagues working for the Jewish community and even then, her work was legendary. She was a passionate advocate for the less fortunate, putting her considerable talents of quiet persuasion, determined optimism and unflinching doggedness to work helping recent refugees and immigrants.
Janis did not understand the word “no.” For her, anything could be done, if it was for the better. When the world was gripped by the Syrian refugee crisis, concerns were voiced about assuming responsibility for refugee families. Janis stood her ground. “Of course it should be done,” she would say, “anything less is not worthy of us as Jews.”
Aboud Dandachi, a Syrian-Muslim refugee living in a Turkish refugee camp, who Janis fought for with her quiet elegance and dignity, had this to say:
“You saved my life. Every day I live and every moment I enjoy in my new life in Canada was only made possible by the fact you committed JIAS to bring me out of the precarious existence I was living in Turkey.…
“If you had just saved my life, that alone would have been an incredible deed … but you saved so many others. Janis: countless families and their children’s children owe their safety and very lives to your efforts. When we were refugees, every single one of us prayed to the heavens for a miracle. You made that miracle happen.”
Janis understood that to be Jewish means looking out for your people, but also for all of humanity.
She was a wise counsel and a needed critic when necessary; a woman who never hesitated to let us know when we were right and when we were wrong. She always did so with grace, intelligence, honesty and humility. When she disagreed with someone, she wasn’t shy to share her thoughts. And she did so in a manner that made the other person reflect.
She was right more often than she was wrong and we became better people because of her. She was laser-focused, but had a sense of humour that touched the soul.
She adored her family. Her younger sister, Cynthia, and husband, Neil, her older sister Tina and brother Blair, her nieces and nephews, were all her dear friends.
Most of all, she loved her children Rebecca (and Carey), Alyssa and her beloved Kenny, whom she called “my beautiful man.” They were a team. Her family was her centre and she poured her love into their hearts and they
embraced her with their loving kindness. It was her family’s tender care that made her ultimate transition so peaceful in her last days on earth.
The heartbreaking call of her passing came on a Sunday morning. At virtually the same time, another mitzvah that belonged to Janis was being completed: JIAS confirmed that it will be bringing in two young refugees who are currently in Israel and are desperate to come to Canada – a process that Janis started a few months ago.
One of the boys just couldn’t stop crying, saying that, “It was a dream come true.”
The world has lost a hero. Our Jewish community is poorer today without Janis Roth’s courage and moxie. We miss her very much and will always remember the lessons she taught us in life and the courageous way she travelled her final road.
We often say after someone’s death: may their memory be a blessing. In the case of our beloved Janis, her memory is, and will always be, a blessing for so many.