“Do you really think that this can make any difference?” I asked my husband.
“You mean more than doing nothing?” he asked.
“Well, yeah,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “I think it can make a difference.”
We were discussing the crazy idea of setting up this foundation.
How did I get here? Here’s how.
One day I was reading about the war in Syria, and looking at a picture of a three-year-old boy named Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach. As the mother of a toddler, it was too much to take, and I decided to try to help the people fleeing the conflict. This led to me starting a group to privately sponsor a family of Syrian refugees to come to Canada, where private citizens are able to do such things.
The group was matched with a family of strangers, Syrian Muslims — two young parents and a one-year-old daughter — by a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). We raised the money to support the family for a period of 12 months, during which time we would also help them settle into Canada. And 10 months after the wheels were set in motion, we met Amir, his wife Noor, and their daughter Sally for the first time.
It was about as weird as you can imagine such a situation could be. But everyone did their best to make everyone else comfortable, and to communicate through language barriers. And we soon became fast friends and began to think of each other as family.
It wasn’t until quite a while after that initial meeting that Amir admitted to me how shocked he had been when he learned I was Jewish. He’d been raised to hate Jews, and to think we were all evil. In fact, he said, if he had known that a Jew was involved in the sponsor group, he would have refused to accept the sponsorship. Everyone where he comes from is told Jews are terrible, he said. It upset him that he had been fed this information.
“Now,” he said, “whenever I talk to someone from Syria, I tell them that the first person to help us was a Jew.”
This had a profound effect on me. It’s not shocking to hear that people hate Jews. It’s never news. But it’s like a slap in the face every time. But there’s small comfort in knowing that we could change a couple of minds at a time, which happened because we were all given the opportunity to get to know each other by the private sponsorship program.
I want to create similar opportunities for others – the chance to get to know each other. That’s why I’m starting this foundation with my friend Neil Schwartzman.
We know that tensions in the Israel-Palestine region are deep and complex, and we’re not so arrogant and self aggrandizing as to think we can fix it all with rainbow murals and hugs. But we believe that if we give good people the opportunity to work together and to be creative together, great things will come out of it, including beautiful creations and great friendships.
Crazy? Maybe. Silly? Undoubtedly. Better than doing nothing? We think so.
So, let’s see what we can create together.
(Image: my tattoo. It says “Tzedakah,” which is Hebrew for “Charity” (ish). Yes, Hebrew speakers. I know it looks a little like “Tzerakah.” You don’t have to remind me.)