From May 23 to June 1, a cohort from Stephen Wise led by Michael Patterson, synagogue president, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, and Rabbi Diana Fersko is traveling to Greece and Germany as part of the synagogue’s Refugee Relief Mission. In partnership with two NGOs, IsraAID and NOSTOS, they are learning about the refugee crisis from political figures and experts in the region and offering support to those in need. For more photos and updates from our group, visit our Facebook page and look for the hashtag #SWFSForRefugees on Instagram and Twitter.
Here, Lori Schneider, director of our Early Childhood Center, reflects on the mission’s first two days in Greece.
Our mission to Greece is proving to be a head-spinning experience filled with many contradictory feelings.
Yesterday afternoon and this morning were spent learning about the policies regarding the refugee crisis. We participated in insightful discussions with the Israeli and American ambassadors to Greece as well as having many interactions with the Jewish community in Athens.
This afternoon the theoretical information became real as we visited two shelters, Xenia Teens and the Mellon Project, a shelter for mothers and children. As I held baby Anna in my arms, delighting in her smiles and funny faces, I realized the commonalities we share with the refugees searching for a new start for their lives. As we listened to Syeed and his friend play guitar and share their hopes for freedom, I felt the connection on a human level.
But then when I think about what these young people have endured, I can hardly process the information. Thinking about a 16-year-old walking across his country to find freedom and hearing a mother’s experience fleeing her country when she is 9 months pregnant makes me understand the vast differences in our lives.
It was amazingly inspiring to feel their hopefulness, despite such difficult experiences. I feel tremendous gratitude for my life in New York City and at the same time a deep responsibility to help keep the hope alive for those we met today.