Jewish Family Services is working with various organizations and ad hoc groups in Ottawa who are engaged in sponsoring the settlement of Syrian refugees in the city. Among them are groups based at several Jewish congregations.
“We just feel as Jews it’s a moral responsibility to help with this situation,” said Andrea Gardner, assistant executive director of Jewish Family Services (JFS), the agency co-ordinating sponsorship efforts for Syrian refugees in Ottawa.
“When the crisis came to a head, we started getting approached by people who wanted to settle refugees,” she said, explaining that JFS is currently working with eight community sponsorship groups, some of them Jewish congregations, who have raised or are raising funds to sponsor the settlement of Syrian refugees in Ottawa.
Among Jewish congregations, Temple Israel has already raised sufficient funds to sponsor a Syrian refugee family to Ottawa.
“Beyond basic humanity, we Jews have a responsibility to help as we had ancestors desperately wanting to come here in 1938 and were refused,” said Lori Rosove, co-chair of the Temple Israel Social Action Committee. “We must be better than that.”
The Temple Israel mobilization began in September after photos of three-year-old refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore were published in newspapers around the world.
“What will we do about this?” wrote Rosove’s co-chair Dara Lithwick in an email to the congregation.
“We had a meeting, October 7, and decided to work through Jewish Family Services,” said Rosove. “We put out a call for funds, and quickly raised $32,000. Within a week, JFS called to say ‘we’ve got a match for you.’”
Temple Israel has been matched with a family – a father, mother and three children, ages five, six and 10.
“The five-year-old has congenital cerebral atrophy and is wheelchair bound, which qualifies the family for the sponsorship category of Joint Assistance Sponsorship program, which means the government will match our donation for a 24-month period.”
With a team of more than 30 volunteers, Temple Israel has been organizing and amassing all of the family’s initial settlement requirements including housing, clothing, housewares, language classes and settlement services orientation package.
“At this point, we are waiting for the family’s date of arrival,” Rosove said. “JFS has informed us that we will be given a 10-day notice. That will give us more time to secure remaining items, assemble the family’s new home and further organize volunteer duties.”
At Agudath Israel Congregation, the TOV (Tikkun Olam Volunteers) Team Committee, under chair Yaffa Greenbaum, has been meeting regarding refugee sponsorship and is now working with Congregation Beth Shalom (Agudath Israel and Beth Shalom are in the process of amalgamation, which will take effect next summer) and Adath Shalom Congregation on the refugee issue.
Greenbaum has organized an information meeting on refugee sponsorship to take place Tuesday, December 8, the third night of Chanukah, at Agudath Israel. Andrea Gardner of JFS will speak at the meeting, which will be open to the community.
“It’s a joint project between Beth Shalom, Adath Shalom and Agudath Israel,” said Greenbaum, “and we welcome additional participation from other community members.”