On the evening of Tuesday, December 15, the recently created Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum (MMJF), held a Season of Twinning event at the historic Atwater Public Library in Westmount. The event, which was sponsored by the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) featured Rabbi Lisa Gruschcow of Temple Emanu-El Beth Shalom in Montreal and Shaheen Ashraf, Secretary of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Montreal Chapter on the subject of “Welcoming Syrian Refugees: Muslims and Jews -s Working Together.” Dr. Karen Mock brought greetings from the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims.
Rabbi -Grushcow, who wrote a ground-breaking article in the Montreal Gazette last September entitled “Why Our Congregation is Sponsoring At Least One Syrian Refugee Family”, gave an inspiring overview of how her congregation has moved forward with determination on the project in the months since then; including raising more than $60,000 and filing papers to bring at least two Syrian families to Montreal in coordination with relatives already here, and beginning the process of helping to find employment for members of the soon-to-arrive families.
Noting that both families are Muslim and that some in the Jewish community have questioned her as to why a synagogue would extend itself to help Syrian Muslims immigrate to Canada, Grushcow explained, “We are not only comfortable helping to bring these families here, but very glad to be playing a small part in a larger movement” embraced by the new Canadian government to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016. We cannot evoke the righteous (gentiles) who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and not do this now. This is an expression of the commitment at the heart of Judaism to Welcome the Stranger.”
Ashraf spoke of the work of CCMW since its foundation in 1982, including fighting for gender equality, working against domestic violence, opposing religious discrimination, including efforts by the previous Government of Quebec to ban religious headgear in the workplace .and speaking out against terrorism and religious fanaticism. Ashraf expressed a readiness to work with the Jewish community, as well as other faith and ethnic communities on the Syrian refugee issue; noting that protecting refugees a value that goes back to the earliest days of Islam when followers of the Prophet Mohammed themselves fled their native Mecca and took refuge in the city of Medina.
In the general discussion that followed the presentation by Rabbi Grushcow and Ms. Ashraf, members of the two communities agreed to explore ways to cooperate on facilitating the integration of Syrian and other refugees, making a contribution to the fight against obstacles to immigrant integration and standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. Follow-up plans are to convene the planning committee of the Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum next month to develop a concrete agenda for ongoing Muslim-Jewish cooperation in Montreal in both the Anglophone and Francophone sectors.