Victoria shul raising funds to sponsor Syrian family

Rabbi Harry Brechner

It’s been just over three weeks since Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El approved a motion to sponsor a Syrian refugee family and already $24,000 has been raised.

“About half of that is from the Jewish community and the other half is from the Victoria community,” said Jean Dragushan, chair of the congregation’s refugee sponsorship steering committee. The committee hopes to raise $50,000 and expects to sponsor a Syrian Muslim family.

“As we cannot forget our oppression and persecution over millennia, we also count our blessings for living in freedom and comfort in Canada,” said the synagogue spiritual leader, Rabbi Harry Brechner.

READ: Vancouver Jews rally to help Syrian refugees

“Jewish ethics enjoin us to reach out to others to help end their suffering. The concept of tikkun, or repair, is central to Jewish belief, in that it is our duty to try to fix what is broken in this world.”

The 153-year-old Conservative shul is Canada’s oldest synagogue in continuous operation. It has about 220 member families in a city with about 2,500 Jews.

The Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, which offers services for immigrant and refugee newcomers, will help Congregation Emanu-El with the sponsorship process and the identification of a family to sponsor, likely one that already has relatives on the island, Dragushan added. The timeline for the family’s arrival is anywhere from a few months up to a year.

Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria
Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria

Congregation members have been mostly positive about the sponsorship initiative, and if any concerns have been raised, they’ve been mostly about fear of the unknown, Dragushan said.

“It’s a massive effort bringing as many refugees to Canada as are coming in now,” she reflected. “We haven’t seen so many people displaced by war since the 1930s.” Dragushan said the committee has invited a couple of other Jewish organizations on the island to participate in the sponsorship, but has not yet received a response. The initiative has attracted interest from the media on Vancouver Island, specifically CBC. Dragushan said she was interviewed by a reporter about the dynamic of a Jewish community sponsoring a Muslim family.

“The family we sponsor will need to know they’ve been sponsored by a Jewish group and be comfortable with that,” she said. “But the Intercultural Association told us it’s highly unlikely to be a problem.”