Hanukkah and Refugees

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December 10, 2015

Mark S. Anshan

Yesterday at the White House, President Barak and the First Lady hosted President Rivlin, his wife, Nechama and invited guests to an afternoon Hanukkah celebration and the lighting of the menorah https://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2015/12/09/president-and-president-israel-speak-white-house-hanukkah-receptio.  It was an inspiring event at which both Presidents spoke about the values that emanate from the story of the rededication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt.  This event in Jewish history teaches us how each of us individually and together as a community must continue to work for religious freedom and tolerance.

As the governments of Canada and the United States and private groups prepare to accept Syrian refugees and assist in their resettlement, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the lessons of Hanukkah and the principles that should guide us as we consider carefully how to successfully integrate and welcome these people into our communities.

A friend of mine today raised an important point about the expectations we should have in granting immigrants the right to settle in our countries.  He asked the thought provoking and very relevant questions:

“I assume, based on past discussions, you are good liberals who find objectionable excluding any potential immigrants on the basis of their religion, as such. Or, even based on their country of origin, without regard to “religion” as such.

What about pure philosophical ideas or religious beliefs that are offensive but avowedly and credibly non/violent?

Would it be permissible, in your view, to exclude folks who reasonably appear (based on past statements or actions) to hold “religious” beliefs that obligate them to oppose (non violently) our  constitutional system and values?  Such as preachers who are strong believers in apartheid who have fled South Africa after the end of white rule?

Can we morally demand that they disavow, say, a sincerely held religious belief that demands that the races should be separated or that gays should be jailed?”

In other words, the threshold question is how do we align the core values of our democratic societies in ensuring that those who desire to live among us from other lands, accept the principles that inform how we live before they are granted the right to settle and before they eventually become citizens (at which point they acquire additional rights, including free speech)?

Donald Trump, in his declarations regarding the exclusion of Muslims being permitted to enter the US, crossed the line and has been properly rebuked.

There is, however, an important public policy issue for both Canada and the US in deciding the basis on which those desiring to immigrant should be permitted to do so, i.e. setting a minimum standard for acceptance of the values and beliefs that form the basis for our respective countries’ existence.

In the context of the immigration of Moslems to the US, Andrew McCarthy puts forth an analysis that is worth reading – http://www.nationalreview.com/article/428201/donald-trump-muslim-immigration-policy-discussion

Israel and Gaza: Hope in time of tragedy

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August 3, 2014

Mark S. Anshan

These are difficult days for Israel and all Israelis, many of whom are close friends. We follow the news closely and hope that with each report we read, there will be news of the conflict ending and innocent people on both sides will be spared the horror of war. The lost of life – civilians and soldiers – Israeli and Gazans – is a tragedy beyond comprehension. Commentaries and analysis of the causes, the consequences and implications fill our inboxes daily as we try to learn and comprehend all that is happening and changing so quickly.

There are glimmers of hope that give us reason to be optimistic for peaceful times when the conflict ends.

A close friend, Iri Kassel, member of Kibbutz Hatzerim (located between Beersheba and Gaza), former director of the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism volunteers with Road to Recovery, a wonderful organization founded by Yuval Roth (originally from Hatzerim). Road to Recovery transports Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to and from hospitals in Israel for medical treatment. I had the privilege of meeting Yuval in June and talked about related projects that will assist with medical care for Palestinians. Two weeks ago Yuval and Iri took Afnan back to the Erez border crossing for her to return home to her family after spending nine months at the Rambam Hospital (Haifa) for treatment. Here is the news report of the journey shown recently on Israeli TV:

Save a Child’s Heart is another wonderful organization that provides life saving heart surgery to children from countries lacking the capacity to provide paediatric heart surgery. Many of the children come from the West Bank and Gaza to be operated on at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, even during the current conflict. SACH Ungala event in Toronto is September 16th: http://www.saveachildsheart.ca/

Save a Child’s Heart – Saving Lives and working for Peace

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Mark S. Anshan

On a recent trip to Israel, my close friend Ron Finkel and I had the privilege of visiting Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) at its centre in Holon and the intensive care unit at Wolfson Hospital where the children who receive life saving heart surgery recover following their surgery.

Ron and I met with the Simon Fisher, the Executive Director of SACH at the specially built house where the patients live pre and post surgery with their caregivers. We were meeting with Simon to discuss Project Rozana (a project founded by Ron to support the training of Palestinian doctors in Israel and provide financial support for the treatment of Palestinian paediatric patients at Hadassah Hospital). Our purpose was to discuss the potential of collaboration with SACH. We also attended a meeting of Palestinian doctors who were participating in a seminar organized for them by SACH.

SACH is a remarkable organization that as indicated on its website: “Every day a child from a developing country is saved in the pediatric cardiac surgical unit at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel, where the Save a Child’s Heart medical facilities are based. Thousands of children from developing countries are alive today because of a small group of medical professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to perform cardiac surgery and train medical personnel.” SACH was founded by Dr. Amram (Ami) Cohen in 1995, a visionary doctor who knew and understood the power of the medical world to make a difference in the lives of children and establish bridges for connecting communities.

SACH is blind when it comes to deciding whom to treat. Each child is brought to Wolfson based on their particular cardiac problem and the assessment of the treatment that can be provided. Children from all the third world and Middle East countries are brought to SACH.

The day Ron and I visited the ICU at Wolfson we saw four children next to each other: one from Syria, one from Iraq, one from the Palestinian Authority and an Israeli. In one small confined ICU, children from countries in conflict were receiving the same degree of medical support and care. It was an unbelievable experience. In the waiting room, the Iraqi child’s mother was waiting nervously (with other family members) for news from the doctor that her son would be ok.

SACH and Wolfson Hospital together are saving lives and helping to establish strong and meaningful relationships with health care workers from Israel and other countries. These relationships create confidence and friendship and establish a base that we hope will, in turn, influence those responsible to move towards finding the peace that has eluded Israel and its neighbours.