On a day devoted to remembrance of the horrific events 16 years ago designed to destroy and divide, Farber Hebrew Day School (FHDS) hosted a presentation on Monday, Sept. 11, affirming the importance of interfaith cooperation to combat evil and exemplify tikkun olam by helping those in need.
Shadi Martini, director of Humanitarian Relief and Regional Relations for the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA), addressed FHDS high school students, faculty and members of the Jewish community about his organization’s efforts to raise awareness about the ongoing hardships endured by refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and the close relationships being built with Israel in answer to these innocent people’s suffering.
FHDS Head of School Rabbi Scot A. Berman acknowledged the school’s partnering with the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC for the event. High School Principal Rabbi Noam Stein expressed the school’s honor in hosting someone who works to further the positive relationship between those of different faiths.
The Syrian-born Martini shared his story of growing up with prejudice and hatred, and his journey to move past these feelings to understand and work with others.
“We were always taught that Israel was the enemy,” he said. “The Jewish population that helps Israel is also our enemy. This is what we believed.”
Because of Syria’s civil war, in 2011, Martini, a general manager of a hospital, was trying to offer medical help to the injured, but due to brutal government opposition, he explained, this work had to be done in secret. Martini’s involvement in this endeavor eventually led to his need to flee the country.
He worked from abroad and began looking for assistance from fellow Arabs. He was shocked when other offers of help came from Israel.
“When I asked why, the Israeli answer was: ‘That’s what we should do. We’re neighbors. It’s our duty to help you.’ This was dangerous on both sides, but we took the chance because we needed the assistance.
“And from that work something developed I never could have imagined,” he said. “Just by people opening up, meeting and talking to each other, we learned about one another and began to understand one another.
“That was the first step. From there, I joined the Multifaith Alliance and have brought in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and secular organizations to help the victims of war. What started with 13 groups has grown to more than 90 organizations offering assistance.”
According to the MFA, in 2013 it identified an opportunity for Israel and Syria to provide humanitarian aid and, over the next few years, has brought Syrians and Israelis together for meetings, encouraging the use of Israel as a staging area for relief shipments. In 2016, the first such shipment was delivered from the United States through the Golan Heights into Syria.
To date, MFA and its partners have delivered more than $31 million of relief supplies through Israel to 1.5 million people.
“This is the good that comes from former adversaries working together to create a model for future cooperation,” he concluded, adding a special message for the students in the audience: “The people who want to do good are the majority. Open your eyes and your hearts, and you’ll find magnificent people.”
Judy Greenwald Contributing Writer