Canadian Mosque, Synagogue Team Up for Refugees

CAIRO – Welcoming Syrian refugees in Canada, two Ontario Jewish and Muslim groups have formed an unlikely partnership to help newcomers, sharing responsibility and setting an example of interfaith unity.

“It brought us together in a way that nothing else has,” Temple Har Zion Rabbi Cory Weiss told The Globe & Mail on Tuesday, March 15.

“The more we learn about each other’s religion, the more we realize we have in common.”

For years, Temple Har Zion and the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre (IMIC) have been neighbors, even sharing a parking lot, in Thornhill, Ont.

The religious institutions have united to privately sponsor Syrian refugees to resettle in Canada, setting a target to raise $60,000 within the next couple of months.

“We are very proud that we can start a project and show Canadians that different cultural groups and religions can work together in Canada on the same common cause,” Alireza Torabian, who is co-chairing the sponsorship efforts at the mosque with Afsaneh Baigi, said.

Cooperation between the mosque and synagogue started last fall when Weiss and the imam of the IMIC, Seyed Reza Hosseini-Nasab, met to get to know one another better.

In December, the synagogue decided it wanted to sponsor Syrian refugees and reached out to the mosque.

The sponsors’ fundraising effort officially launched more than a week ago, when the organizations held a joint event at the synagogue.

Immigration Minister John McCallum, who attended the launch, said it was refreshing to see two religious groups who are “enemies” in some parts of the world working so closely together.

“I went to the mosque, spoke to them and then just walked across the parking lot with maybe 50 to 100 Muslims into the synagogue, and there were maybe 50 to 100 Jews waiting there,” McCallum told The Globe.

“It makes you quite proud to be a Canadian.”

The synagogue hopes the sponsorship effort will inspire other faith groups to consider similar partnerships.

“We hope that this is an idea that will spread,” Weiss said.

“But also that more communities like ours will get together, not only to do social action projects and to help repair the world, but to get to know each other.”