Ya­cov Fruchter

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - The Socialite - Ya­cov Fruchter is di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity build­ing and spir­i­tual en­gage­ment at Beth Tzedec Con­gre­ga­tion.

Ilearned re­cently about the pass­ing of a man named Kheder in Syria. Kheder has four daugh­ters liv­ing in Toronto, in­clud­ing Thanaa, who has been here for more than 10 years and has raised her now-teenage chil­dren in the city. Thanaa and her hus­band have been the an­chor fam­ily for her three sis­ters and their fam­i­lies, who were spon­sored this year through JIAS’ Syr­ian fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion ini­tia­tive. We’re proud at Beth Tzedec Con­gre­ga­tion to work closely with Thanna and two other spon­sor­ing groups in help­ing these fam­i­lies start over in Toronto.

Yet, I feel sad that they’re not able to at­tend their fa­ther’s fu­neral and mourn with fam­ily and friends in their hometown in Syria. In flee­ing their home­land as refugees in search of a peace­ful fu­ture for their chil­dren with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion and threat of death, they’ve given up the op­por­tu­nity to hold their fa­ther in his dy­ing mo­ments and par­tic­i­pate in tra­di­tional burial rites.

In Mish­pa­tim 20-21, the two verses jux­ta­pose the laws of not op­press­ing gerim (strangers, or those who feel like strangers, though of­ten un­der­stood to be con­verts to Ju­daism) with the in­junc­tion against mis­treat­ing or­phans and wid­ows. In­ter­est­ingly, the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the rule about gerim is con­nected to our ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing strangers in Egypt. In the case of wid­ows and or­phans, there is no men­tion of the source for our em­pa­thy and moral treat­ment of them. Rather, the To­rah warns us that if we mis­treat them, we will be killed, and our chil­dren and wives will be­come or­phans and wid­ows.

Though Thanaa and her sis­ters are not in the tra­di­tional cat­e­gory of or­phans and gerim liv­ing in our Jewish com­mu­nity, these verses re­in­force for me the re­spon­si­bil­ity we have for their well-be­ing and the im­por­tance of the work that we’re do­ing and our re­quire­ment to be ex­tra sen­si­tive to new­com­ers as they be­come more at home and shed their feel­ings of be­ing strangers in this land.

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