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The Syrian Refugees, by Debbie Plager

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It was late August and I had just started getting my son’s school supplies ready for the year.  Early fall is usually one of my favorite times of year.  The rhythm of starting a new school year, combined with Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe, brings this feeling of a clean slate.  Of possibility.  Of the future.  I am the child of two teachers, and this was a rhythm woven deep into the fibers of our home.  It’s one that I continue to weave with my own sons.

It was early September when I saw the images of Aylan Kurdi, the toddler refugee who drowned on the crossing to the Island of Kos.  Like many of you, I was haunted by this image.  I was getting my younger son, who was just a year older than Aylan, ready for preschool.  He was so excited about his new classroom.  He felt the power of new beginnings.

I mourn for Aylan.  I mourn for his father who lost his whole family on the passage to Kos, Greece.  Aylan gave a face to the majority of Syrian refugees who are children.  The children among the 4 million Syrian refugees who do not have a new school year.  The children among the 12 million internally displaced Syrians who do not have the safety and foundation that a new school year provides.  They do not have a feeling of possibility.  Right now, their future is not one any of us would wish on innocents.

I originally wrote to Andrew Kosak during the high holidays to ask about whether Bet Ha’am had any plans to do something to support Syrian refugees.  Andrew and I had communicated since then and he wrote back to me the morning of November 13 to confirm the Board’s desire to do something in support of Syrian refugees.  My personal note was to launch this interest.  Andrew wrote to me the morning of the night of the Paris attacks.

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, the days following the Paris attacks lit up questions, fears, and pleas.  I read the headlines where national politicians demanded Muslims register in the United States.  I read the concerns for safety and repeated requests to close America’s doors to Syrian and other Muslim refugees.  And, I saw postings reminding people of a similar ‘request’ for Jews to register in Germany.  In fact, at Northwestern University, where I studied, there was a poll in 1938 where the student body was asked whether the United States should let in Jewish refugees: 68% of the population voted no.  (This is very different from today’s large and vibrant Jewish community).

Even though the United States has the most thorough asylum and refugee screening in the world, some still argue that we should close our doors.  Even though out of the 750,000 refugees who have come to the United States since 9/11, not one has been implicated in a domestic or international terrorist attack (The Economist, October 17, 2015), there are still those who argue we should close our doors to Syrian refugees.

The reality is, the United States will only take in a small handful of Syrian refugees.  Even if the White House got through the additional funds that it recommended, there would only be 10,000 Syrian refugees allowed in next year.  A paltry number compared to the number of refugees migrating to Europe.

So, I choose to believe in the power of possibility, in the power of the future, and in the right for children to grow up with security and safety.  I continue to reach out to my public officials to let them know that I believe in an America that keeps its doors open to those who most need it.  They need to hear these voices now, more than ever, when there is great fear with regards to Muslim refugees.  As a Jewish American, it is my duty to educate others of the dangers when politicians (elected and candidates) call for “registration” and wanting to close America’s doors.  The Jewish American populace has a powerful perspective on these issues and we should not be silent.  I cannot do anything to change Aylan’s history.  I can, however, honor his legacy by making sure refugees are supported in Europe and are welcomed into the United States.



Making your voice heard

Maine Legislative contacts:

  • Senator Susan Collins | Washington, D.C. Office (202) 224-2523
  • Senator Angus King | Washington, D.C. Office (202) 224-5344
  • Congresswoman Shelly Pingree | Washington, D.C. Office 202-225-6116
  • Find your Maine representative | http://legislature.maine.gov/house/townlist.htm
  • Governor LePage | 207-287-3531 and Toll-free: 1-855-721-5203

Support charitable organizations: There are many reputable small and large organizations focusing relief efforts for refugees who are making their way across Europe. 

In addition, Bet Ha’am is one of a few designated drop off sites for Carry The Future.  This small organization collects gently used infant and toddler carriers and sends them to Greece, where volunteers meet with refugees with babies and toddlers and help fit them with a free baby carrier to aid them in their travels.  The Maine volunteers for Carry the Future hope to collect 100 infant carriers by January 1, 2016.

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