In May 2012, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association alerted me to a proposed ad to be published in the Canadian Jewish News about Bill C-31, the refugee legislation, now enacted into law by the Canadian Government.
I was very troubled by what was happening. Our Congregation (Temple Emanu-El) had a long history of involvement in refugee issues, Jewish and non-Jewish, which prompted me to share some of my concerns on Yom Kippur morning. The response was significant. Members carried the message into the community. The Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) called from Montreal to offer support for an initiative to help focus the efforts of concerned citizens, largely Jewish, on the fallout from this refugee legislation. Without that coordination we were afraid too much unfocused energy would be expended trying to undo the harm caused by Bill C-31. Because of her unique role in assisting Canadian refugees via Romero House, I invited Mary Jo Leddy to join Ken Rosenberg, a prominent lawyer and member of our Congregation, Maureen Silcoff, a refugee lawyer recommended by CARL, and myself to begin the organization which has become JRAN, the Jewish Refugee Action Network.
We quickly attracted a distinguished Board and adopted a mission statement which defines our network as rooted in the desire of Jews to act in response to the ancient summons to ‘welcome the stranger’. While vested in the Jewish tradition, JRAN actively seeks to enlist the support of people from other faith, ethnic and social groups throughout Canada. We want to reflect a more positive welcome of refugees in a time when they have become objects of social indifference and political exclusion. JRAN is committed to advocacy, action and public education. Because the Canadian Government has targeted the Roma people in Hungary for refugee exclusion to Canada in its new legislation, much of our present effort is designed to help them. The demonization of the Roma community has deeply etched itself into the consciousness of many Canadians including, unfortunately, a significant element of the Jewish community. We mean to turn the tide, to help Jews better understand their connections to the Roma people, and to advocate on their behalf. At the same time we dare not overlook the evidence of growing anti-Semitism in Hungary and the need to make our Government aware of its existence.
RABBI ARTHUR BIELFELD