Whenever the worst in humanity emerges, Jews are first in line to help out and can be counted on to display the best in humanity
RABBI N. DANIEL KOROBKIN
BETH AVRAHAM YOSEPH CONGREGATION, TORONTO
RABBI LISA GRUSHCOW
TEMPLE EMANU-EL-BETH SHOLOM, MONTREAL
Rabbi Grushcow: Coinciding with the High Holiday season, the world has woken up to the Syrian refugee crisis. The awful death of three-year old Alan Kurdi, his brother and mother has left us with indelible images of the human costs of this tragedy.
Looking in the machzor, I see the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, with the words, “Who by fire, and who by water” and I think of those drowned trying to reach safe shores. It is not a new problem – either in terms of the current refugee crisis, or the history of human suffering – but it is addressing us with urgency this year.
I announced on Rosh Hashanah that our temple will sponsor a Syrian refugee family, just as we sponsored families when the Vietnamese boat people came. I hope that in this way, we can make a difference in the new year.
Rabbi Korobkin: My mother was one of the 10,000 children saved during World War II on the Kindertransport by the British. Although her parents perished, had it not been for Britain’s compassion for a refugee, neither she nor her entire family would be alive today. So I certainly feel the obligation to welcome as many refugees as we can.
That said, our shul, in consultation with the Canadian government, will be working on sponsoring Christian and other non-Muslim refugees from Syria. These refugees’ lives are the most endangered at present, since it’s too dangerous for them to even be in refugee camps. They include Yazidis, Chaldeans, Armenians and many others.
I applaud your efforts and hope that HaShem allows us to “pay it forward.” We can do no less.
Rabbi Grushcow: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently wrote about the refugee crisis, and he, too, cited the Kindertransport. He then went on to say something that I think is essential: “I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Then I realized that it is easy to love your neighbour, because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours.”
Like you, we will work with the government and other agencies to find a family to support. We will not specify a non-Muslim family, nor will we look specifically for one of any particular faith. At times like this, I think it is our shared humanity that matters most of all.
God knows there are plenty of people who need help, and I believe God counts on us all to do it. There will be people affected by this long after the headlines have moved onto other topics. Together, may we have the passion and persistence to respond.
Rabbi Korobkin: The reality we all have to face is that no matter how many refugees Canada, Europe, the United States or any other country will be willing to accept, there simply is no way to absorb the more than four million refugees that are displaced and trying to find sanctuary. Until a solution is found on the ground to deal with ISIS, we simply have to triage the best we can.
One thing that the Jewish People are good at is making lemonade out of lemons. When people are in crisis, we are zealously the first in line to give tzedakah and help out. Whenever the worst in humanity emerges, you can count on our people to display the best in humanity.
May this new year augur blessings for the refugees and the entire world.