Victoria synagogue steps up for Syrians

When members of the Congregation Emanu-El synagogue decided to sponsor a Syrian refugee family, the move sparked “the most incredibly positive energy that I’ve ever seen,” said Jean Dragushan, chairwoman of the committee making the relocation possible.

Dragushan said when the plight of the families fleeing the Syrian civil war hit the news, many of the Jewish congregation’s members became desperate to help.

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So three weeks ago, when the synagogue’s board of directors agreed, unanimously, to sponsor a family, it was like a starting gun went off. Since then, the congregation has raised almost half of the roughly $50,000 it needs to support a family for one year.

“The minute the board said ‘let’s do this,’ we hit the ground running,” Dragushan said.

There have been objections, she said, with some people noting that there are more local problems that need addressing.

“Those concerns are legitimate,” Dragushan said. “But it’s not a legitimate reason to do nothing about other problems.”

Congregation Emanu-El is sponsoring a family through the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, one of two organizations assisting with linking refugees with sponsors. The other agency is the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia.

Sabine Lehr, manager of immigrant services for the Inter-Cultural Association, said she expects about 35 families will make their way to Victoria. It’s not known when the first will arrive.

Lehr said she and colleagues have been surprised by the public’s eagerness to help. Even the arrival of the holiday season, with all its commitments and distractions, has not affected the willingness to help, she said.

“Whatever caused this amazing and wonderful reaction from the public, there has been no waning of it,” Lehr said.

“People are as interested in helping now as they were three months ago.”

Rabbi Harry Brechner said the Congregation Emanu-El synagogue regards the compulsion to help as a commandment from God found in the sacred writings of the Torah.

“It’s a sacred commitment for us to act,” he said.

Brechner also agreed relations between Israel and Syria have been tough. The two countries have been at war several times and the border remains tense.

And as Jews, congregation members will feel a bond with Israel. Meanwhile, it’s possible the family the synagogue hopes to welcome will have never even met any Jews.

“There has been real distrust between both sides,” Brechner said. “We are going to have to rebuild that trust and we are going to do it together, to build that trust and faith together.

“In a certain way, that’s what this is all about,” he said. “We are all human and this is a very human response.”

For more information on helping the synagogue’s efforts, go to congregationemanu-el.ca.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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