The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Muslims, Christians and Jews joined hands in Oakville, Ontario forming "ACT: Abraham's Children Together" in recognition of their common heritage in the Prophet Abraham and love and compassion for all of God's creation – to sponsor Refugees from Syria to come to Canada.
The Syrian refugee crisis has dominated the news since the beginning of Syria’s bloody civil war in 2011, which so far has killed 250,000 people and created a staggering four million refugees. For communities of faith, the answer was obvious even before the picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead in the Mediterranean surf generated headlines worldwide: we must do what we can to help bring them to a safe and welcoming home. But, what was not so obvious was the steps we needed to take to make our hope a reality.
It was back in the winter of 2015 that a few like-minded individuals in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, thought beyond the walls their own religious organizations and considered what they could achieve if the three Abrahamic faiths worked together.
Former Chief Rabbi of England Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recently wrote about the refugee crisis, saying “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.”
This was our challenge when we came together and created a new organization called ACT – Abraham’s Children Together. This would be a coalition of Maple Grove United Church, Shaarei-Beth El Synagogue and the Muslim organization CSRDN (Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need). We were not sure if a coalition of this type had ever been tried before, but we knew not only could we harness the resources of our respective faith groups, but the notion of these three faiths coming together to work on a justice project together, was inspiring. We hoped to set an example that while we might not agree on everything, we have a common ethical responsibility to help those in need – no matter their ethnicity or religion.
We were excited when the family we sponsored, the Al Balkhi family, was finally ushered through all the paperwork and arrived at Toronto Pearson airport this past December 2015. We quickly mobilized our resources, finding a townhouse for the family of seven to live in. We had a full house of furniture donated and a group quickly helped them move in. Other volunteers stepped forward organizing carpooling, education, technology, clothing and food, to help the Al Balkhis feel not just that they made it to this safe haven of Ontario, but that we were thrilled to welcome them here.
In recent weeks, we wanted them to visit each of the houses of worship that helped in this project. When I went to meet the family in their new home, they expressed their surprise that a synagogue of Jewish people had helped them. Riyad and Assyad Al-Balkhi insisted they wanted to provide a homemade dessert for our Kiddush table, a five layered cake that was delicious. During the service we invited the entire family of seven up to the bimah to offer them a blessing of welcoming. Though they had just begun to learn English, the youngest son Asoam came to the microphone with a prepared speech and thanked us for saving their lives - there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. What seemed hard at the beginning, to love the stranger, has become easy – we have found friends.
Learn more about how you can welcome refugees in to your community at rac.org/refugees.
Rabbi Stephen Wise is the spiritual leader of Shaarei-Beth El Congregation of Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Rabbi Wise is the chair of the Interfaith Council of Halton, a member of the Halton Police Service multi-faith taskforce and treasurer of the Reform Rabbis of Greater Toronto. He is an author and speaker on Israel as a “start-up nation”, with his first book “Israel: Repairing the World”. Rabbi Wise and his wife Cheryl, the director of Education at SBE, have 3 young children, Jacob, Talia and Alexa.