In December I had the opportunity to attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial convention. It was a series of remarkable experiences. Shabbat services with 6,000 participants, incredible cantors and Jewish musicians filling the hall with ancient and new melodies for prayer.
The biennial convention serves many purposes. It is a time for the movement to come together – professional and lay leadership – to learn Torah, to hear from the movement’s leadership. As part of the Canadian delegation I had the opportunity to meet with our other lay and professional leaders from the over 20 other Canadian Reform congregations.
We also heard keynote addresses from people like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Reverend William J. Barber, a minister and civil rights leader, who taught messages of collective social responsibility.
“We must demand a moral agenda,” said Reverend Barber, “an agenda that says there are issues that are not about left versus right… Pro-labour, anti-poverty, anti-racist policies are moral issues. Living wages and guaranteed income for the poor are moral issues. Transitioning away from fossil fuels and guaranteeing labour rights and affordable housing, these are moral issues. Fair policies for immigrants are moral issues.”
As a Canadian delegation, we sponsored a resolution calling on both American and Canadian congregations to advocate for increased resources to assist in the plight of the Syrian refugees from their respective governments.
For Temple Israel, social justice has always been a moral issue, and our decision to adopt a Syrian refugee family was a moral decision. The Canadian Council for Reform Judaism-sponsored resolution said: “Between 2015 and 2017, 12 Reform congregations across Canada raised nearly $500,000 to sponsor 60 refugees across 17 families. Some temples partnered with churches, mosques, and other Jewish congregations and institutions to raise the necessary funds for sponsorship… Although this refugee crisis will not be solved by North America alone, there is an important role for our congregations to play.”
In support of that decision, we have been awarded a grant by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to run a 10-12 week training program for new immigrants and refugees. The program will help train them on how to effectively work in Canada’s multicultural/multifaith workforce. Our goal is that the program will help dispel commonly held prejudices and stereotypes.
All too often we wring our hands wondering how we can stem the ever growing tide of anti-Semitism. While I have no allusions that this new program will stop anti-Semitism, the participants of this program will have the personal experience of getting to know me as one of our community’s rabbis, and various other leaders of the Jewish community. The goal of the program is to make sure that refugees and new immigrants who participate in the program have a good understanding of what it means to work in the multi-faith, multicultural milieu that is the Canadian workplace. As we all know, once a personal relationship has been established, people think differently about the stereotypes and prejudices they see and hear.