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Start the new year off right

Todd Stettner

If you are like me, you were horrified at the scenes shown on the nightly news concerning the death of the young boy being carried from the shoreline by the Turkish policeman. My thoughts drifted to this scene as I sat in synagogue on Yom Kippur. The rabbi’s sermon focused on immigration to the United States and all the related issues. Resolving these issues is not as simple as some presidential candidates would like us to believe. More importantly, the rabbi was talking to the congregation about the Jewish values surrounding immigration. He pointed out that the Torah reminds us 33 times that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Even today, there are people who want to leave their homeland. Syrian refugees would love to emigrate to the United States or Europe, or just about anywhere they would be welcomed.


I’d like to reflect on what we, as a community, are doing and what we, as individuals, can do. {mprestriction ids="1,3"}For the past two years, a group called the “Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief,” JCDR, has quietly been funding efforts to support the Syrian refugees. One of our major overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), has been the convener and coordinator of this effort. JDC responds, along with sectarian relief groups, to disasters all over the world. The Union for Reform Judaism, Hadassah, the Orthodox Union, American Jewish World Service, National Council of Jewish Women and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — are among others who compose this group.

According to Jerry Silverman, CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, and also a partner in the group, “To date, JCDR’s assistance to Syrian refugees has been delivered in Jordan, which has seen more than 625,000 officially registered refugees enter the country since the beginning of the fighting in Syria. Jewish and Israeli efforts to steady the situation in Jordan reflect both humanitarian and security concerns, since this large and growing number of migrants can potentially have a destabilizing effect on the country. Israel has evacuated and provided medical care to approximately 1,000 Syrian citizens since the outbreak of the conflict. This week, JCDR expanded the scope and mandate of its Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees in Jordan to include refugees and migrants in Europe and the Middle East.”

$125,000 has been raised recently, and prior to that $500,000 was raised and disbursed to the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

I’d also like to share with you an eyewitness report on the situation from Sam Amiel of JDC who has spent time in some of the transit camps in Europe and reports from Budapest, Hungary:

“We spent yesterday morning assessing needs at one of Budapest’s central train stations and witnessed scores of refugees gather to board a train to Austria while many other recent arrivals remained in the station to rest, eat, collect essential donated supplies, and perhaps pass the night in the station’s underground makeshift shelter …

By afternoon it began to rain steadily as we arrived to Roszke, Hungary’s rural border town with Serbia. I was immediately shaken by the seemingly endless flow of refugees and migrants making their way on train tracks across the border as rain poured down and wind swept through the flat cornfields. There was an absolute chaotic scene in muddy fields as hundreds of refugees scrambled to keep their children dry under plastic trash bags, grabbed food being distributed by young volunteers, and attempted to use anyone’s local cell phone in order to make contact …

We witnessed groups of men set out on foot for the long trek toward the nearest railway station. Police stood by ensuring the scene did not get out of hand but did not provide any direction for the new arrivals. We met with committed professionals and volunteers who have been laboring virtually non-stop since the summer and who helped us identify the greatest needs where JDC can make a real difference.”

JDC is working to create safe spaces for kids and women, and offers psychological support to those who need it. So what can you do? I know we ask a lot for our own community during the course of a year, but now we have a time to truly “remember when we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” You can participate in two mitzvot (good deeds): Tikkun Olam (repair of the world), and Tzedakah (justice), by supporting this special effort. You can send a check to Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees, C/O Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City (5801 W. 115th St., Overland Park, KS 66211). You will start this New Year right by knowing you have done a wonderful act of kindness.{/mprestriction}