Congregations prepare to welcome Syrian refugees

Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, northern Jordan WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, northern Jordan WIKI COMMONS PHOTO

As a wave of Syrian refugees begins to  enter Canada, two Jewish groups – one in the GTA and another in Ottawa – are waiting for word that their sponsored families will be arriving in Canada soon.

The two refugee families could arrive by the end of December. All the paperwork has been completed and all that remains is for the final travel arrangements to be concluded, said Lia Kisel, language and settlement director of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Toronto (JIAS).

“We believe that because it was put together so fast, they may be coming very soon,” she said.

Lia Kisel, JIAS
Lia Kisel, JIAS

JIAS is a sponsorship agreement holder (SAH), permitting it to facilitate immigration to Canada. It is operating in co-operation with 25 Jewish groups, many associated with Toronto-area synagogues, to sponsor refugee families. Each group is expected to raise at least $27,600 for a family of four, while many of the sponsoring groups are also collecting furniture, clothes and lodging, while volunteering services such as medical and dental care for the expected arrivals.

Kisel declined to reveal which groups are expected to be first in line to receive Syrian refugees, but the members of several Toronto-area synagogues have been working to prepare for the arrival of their sponsored families.

In Oakville, Shaarei-Beth El Congregation has raised $5,000 as its share of the sponsorship fee, in a joint effort with a local church and a Muslim group associated with the ISNA Mosque.

“We understand that our refugee family has been approved. Now we wait to hear the exact arrival date likely by the end of December. Then we go to the airport to pick them up,” said Rabbi Stephen Wise.

“In the meantime, ACT, the partnership with the Muslim and Christian communities, together have several committees working hard – a housing committee finding an apartment, a food committee collecting halal goods, a clothing committee organizing clothing drives, a furniture committee, a health committee to help them with getting OHIP cards and doctor and dentists and possible mental health, and a transportation committee to help them with carpools and navigating the GO bus system. We are ready when they get here,” he said.

READ: Toronto synagogues mobilize to help Syrian refugees

As Chanukah approached, the congregation was planning to make this year’s celebration even more meaningful.

“As part of our Chanukah celebration, we are doing the food drive as a way for our youth to give gifts instead of receiving gifts each day. The food drive culminates in a communal candlelighting on Friday night, Dec. 11, when the mayor, the town council, the regional chair and leaders of the interfaith community will join me on the bimah to light the lights of freedom.”

Members of Congregation Darchei Noam were perhaps the first to seek out a Syrian family to sponsor. Tema Smith, manager of communications for the synagogue, said “we’re not sure yet when our family is arriving.”

As they wait, synagogue members active in the project are now “collecting furniture, clothing from our members in as-good-as-new condition so they can be set up in comfort,” she said.

Synagogue volunteers are also prepared to find an apartment for the family to live in. In addition to volunteers from the synagogue, other members of the Jewish community have pledged financial support and provided other materials to help settle the new arrivals.

Stephen Wise
Stephen Wise

Holy Blossom Temple is planning to sponsor two Syrian families. According to synagogue spokesperson Jacqueline Friedland, the family is currently in Turkey and is not expected to arrive until late spring.

“There are a large number of volunteers who have begun to collect clothing, books, household items, furniture. Others have stepped forward to volunteer as tutors, to provide a wide variety of health care services, to potentially assist with employment, and possibly housing,” she said.

“The family we are sponsoring have some relatives already in Toronto. We will co-ordinate with them about how best to welcome the family and provide ongoing support as they adapt to life in Canada.

“We are eager to welcome new families to Canada and help make their transition as easy as possible, recognizing the difficult circumstances that they have faced over the recent past,” she added.

Abby Robins at City Shul said the synagogue’s membership has risen to the challenge of raising money and preparing the ground for a refugee family, once they arrive in Canada.

When that is, “I don’t know,” said Robins.

READ: Bound by our history to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis

In the meantime, the members have volunteered material goods and are prepared to help the new arrivals set up with OHIP, find doctors, take them to appointments and help in other ways to acclimatize them to Canada. Services have already been volunteered from a pediatrician and a psychologist.

“Refugees hit home for Jews. We’re doing what people didn’t do for us,” she said.

Alla Mazor, a settlement worker at Jewish Family Services in Ottawa, said the agency is facilitating two refugee family sponsorships by a number of Ottawa residents. As for when they might expect the family, “it could be soon, but we don’t know how soon.”