Denied asylum in Israel, Eritreans are welcomed by Canadian Jews

Denied asylum in Israel, Eritreans are welcomed by Canadian Jews

Tel Aviv, Israel; and Toronto

Taking one last look at the Mediterranean sun pouring by the lavender curtains of their Tel Aviv apartment, Medhanea and Titi Solomon scoot the last of eight suitcases and assorted carry-ons – everything they own – out the door and close it. They jiggle the manager to make sure it’s locked.

The Eritrean asylum-seekers and their two Israeli-born daughters – Hermela and Heran – climb into cars headed to the airport, swallowed into the morning’s traffic of a country that for more than a decade they had hoped would be their home. But Israel, although a Western democracy produced in response to the Jewish people’s own history as refugees, did not embrace them.

The government classifies non-Jewish asylum-seekers as “infiltrators,” putting their children into segregated schools for families of foreign workers and asylum-seekers. Here they are relegated to a life of limbo and chronic economic instability with little likelihood of being granted refugee position.

Why We Wrote This

Jewish Canadians, upset over Israel’s hard-line policies toward asylum-seekers, are sponsoring the relocation of Eritrean families from Israel to Canada. They believe Jews are morally obligated to help others who have been persecuted – “to welcome the stranger.”

Israel “forgot what it feels like to be a refugee,” says Ms. Solomon, who 20 hours after leaving their fifth-floor walk-up in Tel Aviv was on the other side of the world. She is urging her daughters to open the door of their new apartment on a cold and rainy November night in Toronto. 

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<p>Medhanea Solomon carries down luggage as the family arrives in Toronto.</p>
<p>Each wears a gold necklace that produces their names in Hebrew. Bundled in matching pink coats, their curly hair brushed back in identical ponytails, the girls slip by the doorway and into a new future in Canada.  </p>
<p>“Mama, is this a dream?” 10-year-old Hermela, dazed from the journey, asks in Hebrew.</p>
<p>The two-bedroom basement unit in a handsome brick home in one of Toronto’s most desirable neighborhoods had been lovingly prepared by the family’s four sponsors, members of the Jewish community of Toronto. For years they had watched Israel’s harsh policies toward asylum-seekers with a mix of heartbreak and rage. They have filled the newcomers’ fridge with pita and hummus, fresh fruit, and salads. A teddy bear is placed at the head of each girl’s tidy single bed, covered in matching polka-dot duvets. Fresh daisies sit on a coffee table.</p>
<p>“Everything is ready already,” Ms. Solomon keeps repeating.</p>
<p>For many Jews around the world, Israel’s treatment of asylum-seekers has stirred thorough emotions, says Jon Allen, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel. He is the Solomons’ sponsor, along with his wife and another associate. The four of them picked up the family from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, helping them carry their eight suitcases down the stairs into their new home. </p>
<p>“Jews have been a persecuted people their whole existence,” Mr. Allen says. And while Israel was never perfect, he notes, “the Israel I grew up with was going to be the land of Jewish people with Jewish people’s values, which were to recognize what we suffered by and ensure that other people didn’t go by that.”</p>
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