Relations between Israel and Syria have been tense since the mid-1990s — the nations have fought against each other in several wars, and have never had formal diplomatic relations.

Yet when Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Vancouver's Temple Sholom asked his congregation for donations to sponsor a Syrian refugee family, he received $40,000 within a few days.

"This is our story as human beings, it's particularly our story as Jews — we have been ourselves refugees throughout our time all the way back to the times of the Bible," said Moskovitz, senior rabbi at the Oak Street synagogue. 

'Love the stranger'

"It says 36 times in the Bible in the Old Testament to love the stranger, to love the refugee, because you were once strangers, you were once refugees yourself," he told  B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko.

"You don't repeat something 36 times in the Bible unless it's really, really important, and this is our obligation to see ourselves as them and to do what we can to save lives."

The temple is working with Mosaic immigrant services organization, the Jewish Federation of Vancouver and the Anglican Archdiocese to sponsor a young family which has relations in Vancouver, but need sponsorship support to leave the refugee camp where they live.

Some of Vancouver's other synagogues have also agreed to work with these organizations to sponsor one or two refugee families. Moskovitz said $40,000 is the estimated budget to support a family of four for a year.

'Are we importing problems?'

Moskovitz said there were some in his congregation that were apprehensive, but said "98 per cent" of his congregation were supportive.

"Those that had concerns had valid and just concerns … there's a long history of conflict between Israel and Syria, and anti-Semitism in the region, and concerns that, 'Are we importing problems for Canada, problems for Jews in Canada?'"

He said all the organizations involved "feel confident" about the families they are sponsoring.

To those who have concerns about refugees posing a security or terrorism risk, Moskovitz had the following to say:

"We are blaming a refugee crisis for terrorism, when really we should be blaming terrorism for a refugee crisis," he said.

Moskovitz hopes that, in addition to saving lives, this effort will also work towards peace between Jews and Syrians.

"One by one, family by family, we can build bridges of understanding and hopefully reduce, at least on the micro scale, the conflict between the peoples."


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Temple Sholom in Vancouver sponsors Syrian refugee family