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Shalom Group for Sponsorship of Syrian Refugees

In late 2015, Or Haneshamah joined Ottawa congregations Adath Shalom and Kehillat Beth Israel to form the Shalom Group to support the sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family. The Group has now raised enough money to sponsor a family.

July 11, 2018 Update

We have loads of good news to share with you since the Alsahar family’s arrival in Ottawa just over a month ago. Shadi and Asmaa and their three young children have been adjusting well to their new lives in Canada. They have been living on a temporary basis in Shadi’s sister Fidaa’s apartment, along with her husband Ziad and their two sons. Fortunately, we were able to arrange for the rental of a nearby townhome that the family can move into on August 1st. They are extremely excited about the move since their two girls (ages 7 and 4) and their son (age 3) will have a backyard to play in, all to themselves.

Aside from finding suitable housing for the family, Shalom Group volunteers collected clothing, furniture, and other household items, and the family has since chosen what they needed for themselves and for their new home. Happily, the children are now riding bicycles thanks to the generous donations of Ottawa area families.

We have been fortunate to have a couple of excellent Arab speaking interpreters who have been joining us for meetings at the bank, at the English Language Assessment Centre, and at various government service centres where the family has since acquired their OHIP cards and their social insurance numbers. Each member of the family has had their English language abilities assessed, and Shadi is currently enrolled in English language lessons. The children will be taking swimming lessons at the neighbourhood swimming pool this summer.

Speaking of swimming, the kids experienced swimming for the very first time when both families and the Shalom Group Team leaders got together for a meet and greet BBQ at the home of one our volunteers. With life jackets securely strapped on, all three kids were jumping into the pool in no time at all with huge smiles on their faces.

And finally, one of our volunteers, along with one of our interpreters, brought the entire family downtown for a “tourist day” where they watched the Changing of the Guards at Parliament Hill. And another first for the family – a boat tour on the Ottawa River. Asmaa and Shadi mentioned that it was the first time they had ever set foot on a boat.

We will be sure to bring you more updates in the weeks ahead. The Shalom Group would like to thank the members of our wonderful community who provided financial assistance, allowing for this humanitarian effort to come to fruition.

June 2018 Update

We are very happy to report the safe arrival in Canada of Shadi, Asmaa and their three children on June 11, 2018. The family is settling in and members of the Shalom Group have been working to make their transition as smooth as possible. The family will be living with Shadi’s sister, brother-in-law, and their family, who were sponsored by the Temple Israel Social Action Committee in 2016, until they move into their own apartment on August 1. While this has been an almost two-year process, with the family's arrival our work is really just beginning as we help them adjust to life in Canada over the next 12 months.

The Shalom Group would like to thank the members of our wonderful community who provided financial assistance, allowing for this incredible humanitarian effort to come to fruition. Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Ottawa has been very helpful in its ongoing support of this important initiative within the Jewish community. The Shalom Group would also like to thank the Temple Israel Social Action Committee for bringing this initiative to the forefront. We would like to especially thank Jordan Rosove for his ongoing encouragement and advice.

March 2018 Update

Some encouraging news – finally.

It has been over a year since the Shalom Group submitted its sponsorship application to the Government of Canada. We finally have some positive news to report, even though it remains tentative until it’s confirmed through official channels.

The winter was hard for Shadi, Asmaa and their three children. Work has been very difficult for Shadi to get, the security situation in Lebanon deteriorated through the fall, and Esmaa learned in early winter that one of her brothers (a young man in his early thirties, and still living in Syria) was killed. Their future looked very bleak and they began to lose heart about ever having a chance to start again.

In early February, Shadi finally heard from Canadian visa officers in Beirut. Suddenly, things began to move quickly. Shadi, his wife Esmaa, and their three children were interviewed by Canadian government officials in Beirut on February 28. They went for their medical exams on March 5. The next hurdle is security checks and we understand that this can take several months. These signs are encouraging although we still have no official news.

If Shadi and his family are approved, the organization of their paperwork to leave Lebanon and their air transport are in the hands of another organization, the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Because this process can take anywhere between 2 weeks and 12 months, we are now beginning planning for their arrival in the hopes that they are able to arrive quickly to be reunited with their Ottawa-based family (who were settled here nearly two years ago thanks to the sponsorship of Temple Israel).

Next Steps

We are in the unique situation of having family to help plan for the arrival to Ottawa. Shadi’s sister Fidaa has become quite fluent in English and will probably be our most regular interpreter when they arrive, she’s already sending long texts in English to us when she hears from Shadi. Shadi’s brother-in-law Ziad has been working for some time for a painting company and will be Shadi’s most important contact to the Syrian community and eventually to employment (although both men dream of going into business together once Shadi is settled and has acquired some English).

Coordinating Group members will be meeting with team leaders on March 21 to discuss the responsibilities for each team. Following this meeting and depending on whether we have any more news about timelines and scheduling, we would expect team leaders to be in touch with their volunteers so they can begin to do some more detailed planning.

If you have already signed up to help, you will get a message from one of the team leaders. If you have not had a chance to volunteer and are interested, please contact Ira expressing your interest and the type of tasks you could assist with.

Donations are still welcome. Remember a tax receipt will be issued by JFS for donations of $18 or more. You can donate by credit card or cheque by mailing to: Andrea Gardner, c/o Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, 2255 Carling Ave, Suite 300, Ottawa, ON, K2B 7Z5. Please make cheques payable to Jewish Family Services of Ottawa and ensure that you write "Assist Syrian Refugees + The Shalom Group" on the memo line.

Depending on the news, this Passover may be the start of a very real journey from bondage to freedom for the children and their parents.

We wish you all a very happy and joyful Passover.


The members of your coordinating group

March 11, 2018

February 2017 Update

The Shalom Group first came together in late 2015, representing three Jewish congregations in Ottawa (Kehillat Beth Israel, Adath Shalom and Or Haneshamah) with the intention to help settle a Syrian refugee family. Although we met our financial target, the government’s resettlement process slowed to a crawl once it met its goal of settling 25,000 refugees.

However, the number of willing sponsors far-outnumbered the number of accepted refugees. The Temple Israel sponsorship group approached us to see whether we would be interested in helping to sponsor family members of the Syrian family they had already brought to Canada - to which our volunteers and donors whole-heartedly agreed.

Our current family, now living in Lebanon, consists of Shaadi, his wife Esmaa, and their three children. Shaadi is the brother of Fidda who along with her husband and children was part of the family brought in by Temple Israel. The chance to resettle with close family members is currently their only hope for a better life.

The process was administratively very burdensome. We started around the High Holiday Days. With support and encouragement from Jewish Family Services, our team included Gary Stein from ORH, Barbara Levine from KBI, Ira Greenblatt from Adath Shalom and translator Mouna Al-Shaban. They met one night a week for several weeks with Temple Israel’s family in their apartment connecting by phone with Shaadi and Esmaa in order to complete the onerous paperwork.

The forms were painstakingly completed and reviewed. New time pressures arose when the government capped the number of allowable sponsored immigrants at 1000.

By late December, we had all the forms completed, UN and birth documents translated, photos signed and information checked. The package was sent to the Government’s processing centre the day the cap was announced. We waited another few weeks with baited breath and recently learned that we have been assigned a file number! This means our family is in the queue although they still have to go through many steps before being approved. However, we remain hopeful.

The Government of Canada website tells us that the current processing time is nine months. Hopefully, they will be here before the end of 2017, and we will need the help of everyone who offered their time, energy, financial and moral support to prepare to welcome them if they are approved. We will keep you informed through each stage of the process.

Summer 2016 Update

In July, the Shalom Group was approached by Temple Israel, asking us to consider sponsoring family members of the family they sponsored last year. That family's "mother" has a brother, currently living in Lebanon with his wife and three children. After discussions with the Temple sponsorship group and Jewish Family Services, the Shalom Group coordinating committee decided to pursue this wonderful opportunity. There were lots of reasons for this decision. The committee felt that helping reunify these families represents a real mitzvah. Also, as some may know, the Temple group's family lost their little girl shortly after their arrival in Ottawa. Obviously, the families will be able to help each other through this difficult time and also in integrating into Canada.

This means the Shalom Group is no longer attempting to be "matched" with a family via the regularly circulated government list of eligible-for-sponsorship refugees (i.e., the BVOR list). Over the coming weeks and months Shalom Group volunteers will be filing appropriate paperwork and negotiating the bureaucracy. We have been told that it could be a year or more before the family actually arrives. So patience will definitely be a virtue! We will be providing more information about the family and the process moving forward in the coming weeks.

Tue, 28 March 2023