OR SHALOM WELCOMES OUR FOUR REFUGEE FAMILIES
Day after CANADA DAY, 2017
© Rabbi Hannah Dresner
Boker Tov – Good morning. Shalom aleichem – salam aleikum.
Jews have, historically, been forced to live as unwanted guests and partial citizens. Here and now, we gather to make the most of this opportunity to be hosts, but it is right that we have begun our celebration by acknowledging that we are also guests, guests of the first peoples of this land, acknowledging that, ultimately, we are all guests, entrusted to care for our earth and care for one another.
Our Torah teaches: v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – love your neighbor as yourself: ani Adonai – I am God. Why is this phrase tacked on, “I am God?” It is to remind us that we are all images of the one living God, God-breath animating each and all of us, and therefore there is no neighbor separate from myself; we are all enlivened by a single breath of life.
We try to extend ourselves to you as we would wish to be welcomed.
I am humbled to stand before you as spiritual leader of this amazing community, 200 households who have raised funds and the volunteer enthusiasm to sponsor four refugee families, including eight children. Our sponsorship is the result of a fundraising effort that quickly and easily raised more than the synagogue’s annual campaign total, and a great deal more in in-kind donations, from embroidered pillow cases to used cell phones to furniture to domestic residence, as well as selfless donations of time.
The poignancy of greeting our families, seeing you free, safe, secure, no longer under threat of persecution, no longer refugees, but on your way to being citizens of Canada, is powerful, and I understand that we have been making history. As you settle into this land of promise, we, here in the synagogue, culminate our reading of the book of Bamidbar, which means “In the Wilderness.” And your wilderness wandering has come to a close.
Crisis forces us to grow and change. Our tradition teaches that it is when we are most broken that healing is possible. In Jewish history, there is a correlation between crisis and transformation, repeated exiles catalyzing the evolution of Judaism. We’ve packed our households and hit the road, opening new chapters in countless lands, largely flourishing in exile/new homelands. Perhaps this is why we have such faith that you will succeed, indeed flourish, in the promised land of British Columbia.
We have a core of optimism.
But I think it will be wise for us to remember your story of pain, your shocks and devastations, and your fear of losing traditions to assimilation. As a refugee people, ourselves, we understand the power of memory. It’s our understanding of the balance between inconsolable loss and opportunity for new flourishing that will enable us to be of particular support to you as new citizens of Canada.
As we welcome you, we also fulfill our own hearts’ desire to do our part to repair our world and build a heaven right here on earth. This is the core of Jewish practice.
And I thank you for giving us this opportunity to serve, to honor humankind as images of God, and to be God’s hands in the world.