Rabbi's story inspires synagogue to sponsor Syrian refugees

Tina Grimberg was a teenager when her family fled Ukraine. They were among the 50,000 Soviet Jews who left the former USSR more than three decades ago. Now she's a rabbi whose congregation is welcoming a refugee family from Syria. Rabbi Grimberg knows all too well what those refugees are going through.

"A bundle of belongings isn't the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. Einstein was a refugee." So reads a United Nations poster.

Tina Grimberg was a refugee too. She fled Ukraine as a teenager over three decades ago. Tina and her family were among the 50,000 Soviet Jews who left the former USSR at that time. It was a huge decision for the family to make and a difficult emotional and physical journey.

Now, Tina Grimberg is the rabbi at Darchei Noam, a reconstructionist synagogue in Toronto. This fall, her congregation decided to sponsor a Syrian family to come to Canada.

Naomi Alboim is a co-founder of Lifeline Syria and a member of Darchei Noam. She says many members of the congregation are the children and grandchildren of refugees. Others, like Rabbi Grimberg, are refugees themselves. So it made sense for the congregation to sponsor a family.

And doing so brings Rabbi Grimberg's story full circle. Once she was a scared Soviet teenager arriving in a new country. Now she is welcoming the newcomers and helping them to get settled in their new life.

Rabbi Tina Grimberg with her husband and son.

It has taken Rabbi Grimberg decades to process her experience. She has some profound insights into what it means to be a refugee, to truly leave your home, to accept the losses and still take the risk.

"Deep down inside there is a huge panic because you cannot go back to what was your life once and you have to run after your life ahead of you."

Though hardships are inevitable, they are laced with hope and promise.

In his documentary "The Rabbi Who Was Once A Refugee", the CBC's Neil Herland takes us inside the refugee experience through the story of Rabbi Tina Grimberg.


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