One Year Later: Our Work with San Diego’s Syrian Refugee Community

The Syrian refugee community gathers for a day organized by PANA at the San Diego Zoo — August 2016
The stranger that lives with you shall be to you like the native, and you shall love him [or her] as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:34)

September 2016 | Rosh Hashanah 5777

Dear friends,

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, through our beautiful rituals we reflect on a year gone by. During this holiday, we are awakened by the penetrating sound of the shofar and we taste sweet foods to usher in a sweet year.

This year, we at Leichtag Foundation reflect on another milestone. It was one year ago this week when we first asked:

“How can we, the people who have been refugees and strangers generation after generation, do more to address [the Syrian refugee crisis] just 70 years after the Holocaust?”

This question, rooted in the Jewish imperative to welcome the stranger, took us down a road we are so proud to have walked down.


Source: NYT — U.S. Reaches Goal of Admitting 10,000 Syrian Refugees. Here’s Where They Went.”

Just last month, we learned that San Diego, as the nation’s eighth-largest city, has resettled more Syrian refugees than any other city in the U.S. — 626 Syrian refugees since October 2015. It should be noted that there are currently more than 4,800,000 Syrian refugees registered with the U.N. refugee agency, and that the U.S. just recently fulfilled its pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees.

“San Diego, the nation’s eighth-largest city, has received 626 Syrian refugees since Oct. 1, more than any other in the United States.” — Associated Press

The arrival is surely a great relief to those escaping the horrors of war and the camps that became their homes — sometimes for years at a time. These new Americans also face many trials and challenges that we know well: understanding a new culture; learning a foreign language; basics like housing, education, jobs and transportation. Even simply meeting each other, or with those who have been in this country for longer periods, is a challenge.

“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.” — President John F. Kennedy
Syrian Refugee Convening — December 7th, 2015

But for all of these challenges, we have seen so much good that must be recognized. Grassroots leaders and activists who have stepped up, organized, and set in motion the actions that will put these new Americans on the path to self-sufficiency. Course corrections at every turn by earnest people trying to do their best in a very complicated transition. We have seen small acts of kindness, small (and large) acts of charity, unexpected volunteers, and people who just want to help.

Hosting a Syrian refugee family at Coastal Roots Farm — July 2016.

We have heard so many words of welcoming, love, and support — transcending the fearful rhetoric that we have also heard, repeated daily on the 24-hour news networks and even in our communities. We have had the incredible honor to meet, eat tahini, and share stories with some of these brave newcomers even when we might not speak the same language. And just last week, we hosted a meeting with the Syrian-American community of San Diego at Leichtag Commons where Jews, Muslims, Christians gathered to reflect each of our immigrant experiences and determine where our best successes lie.


We wanted to share with you a few of these stories that have made this year so meaningful to us. But we want to be clear: these stories are ongoing. These families’ journeys are not over, and in fact, a new set of challenges are ahead of them.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.” Though we cannot do everything, we must do something. Like Lee and Toni, we feel blessed to have the opportunity to help.


Refugee Artists-in-Residence

Abdullah Taysan, Syrian refugee, makes a sculpture with Raffael Lomas, Israeli artist.

In July 2016, Israeli artist Raffael Lomas converted an unused barn at Leichtag Commons into a gorgeous “maker’s space,” and sought to use it as a safe space to help San Diego’s refugee community use art and creativity to find connection, place, and meaning. Read more.


An Extraordinary Day

Picking strawberries at Coastal Roots Farm.

How a visit to Coastal Roots Farm changed the lives of a recently resettled Syrian refugee family. Read more.


A Visit to the San Diego Zoo

Visiting San Diego Zoo.

A day at the San Diego Zoo is always special, but for these recently resettled Syrian refugees, it was a day to remember. Over 350 newcomers came for a joyous day of fun and animals and enjoyed the opportunity to meet, connect, eat, laugh, and even sing together. This special event organized by Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans and supported by the Foundation. This is why we work to create welcoming communities. See more.

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