November 14, 2018

Local Synagogues Aid Syrian Children

In November, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) announced its participation in The Big Fill, a drive to collect medical and other essential supplies to be shipped to Syria, confident that the community would respond.

On April 8, 100 volunteers, ranging in age from 13 to 80, showed up to sort supplies and pack boxes. Organizers of the effort estimated the job would take three hours. The volunteers finished in half that time.

“I thought there’d be 15 volunteers,” said Phil Koosed, who with his wife, Tamar Benzaken Koosed, co-founded Save the Syrian Children, the organization arranging the shipment. “To see how much people care was amazing.”

The drive yielded almost 120 boxes filled with 2.5 tons of clothes, baby supplies, food and toys, said Pete Siegel, a TEBH board member who has been spearheading the synagogue’s social justice group, Na’aseh V’Nishmah. Siegel said that more than 10 pallets of medical supplies had been sent earlier and are now in the hands of Syrian doctors.

Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at TEBH, said the effort enabled the participation of a wide variety of people, from seventh-graders looking for bar mitzvah projects to medical professionals. “Everybody had a way they could be involved,” she said.

“The notion of ‘We help people here and we help people overseas’ was a really powerful message for congregants.” – Pete Siegel

Zachary Rosenberg, 13, collected socks for The Big Fill as his bar mitzvah project: “1,752 pairs to be exact,” he told the Journal in an email. “It is cool that something so simple as socks can make such a big difference.”

Siegel said working with a local organization like Save the Syrian Children showed TEBH congregants that global impact could have a Jewish flavor.

“The notion of ‘We help people here and we help people overseas’ was a really powerful message for congregants,” he said.

The Kooseds founded Save the Syrian Children nearly two years ago after the bombing of Aleppo. As the parents of two young children, they were deeply disturbed by images of children trapped under rubble and being gassed by chemical attacks.

“We realized very quickly that the only thing that separates [our children] from that situation is luck,” said Benzaken Koosed.

Working with Stephen S. Wise Temple, where they are members, the Kooseds took action, finding support from Rabbis Ron Stern and Yoshi Zweiback, and holding an in-kind donation drive. Bassin heard about the Wise drive, Benzaken Koosed said, and “put it on steroids, took it to the next level, gathered 12 interfaith organizations, and this is the product of her work.”

Organizational partners were the American Jewish Committee of Los Angeles, Honeymoon Israel, IKAR, Tikkun, Temple Judea, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Temple Adat Elohim, Temple Beth Am, the Conejo Valley Women’s Interfaith Network, and the Conejo Valley Refugee Welcoming Team.

Supplies are delivered through Israel’s Golan Heights, cross the border to Syria with help from the Israel Defense Forces, and are inventoried to make sure that everything that was sent actually arrived, Bassin said. Supply vehicles often have a menorah or Star of David on the side, she added, “but nobody’s messing with them because they understand that these resources are coming from the Jewish community. The Jewish community has shown up in a way that a lot of other communities haven’t.”

A number of interfaith organizations and participants also helped with the project.

“But ultimately, this isn’t about politics,” Bassin said. “It’s about human dignity.”