Why a Jew made it her personal mission to rescue Syrian refugees
Reflections from my interview with Dr. Georgette Bennett
My life’s work as the leader of Eagles’ Wings, a global movement, often leads me to connect with leaders around the world who astound me both in their ingenuity and also in their propensity to achieve things that by all intents and purposes would be considered impossible.
Just recently I had the privilege, along with my co-host Pastor Karen Wheaton, of interviewing an amazing Jewish leader whom I had previously met but had not yet had the opportunity to hear the fullness of her story.
Dr. Georgette Bennett, born in Budapest in 1946, was a child of the Holocaust who had a few strikes against her before she even took her first breath. Born to a Hungarian Jewish mother who illegally owned a salon in an anti-Jewish society and a Polish father who had lost his first wife and children in the killing rampages of the Nazis in Poland, Georgette as an infant was cast into a desperate situation of survival along with her parents.
Quickly, at about 18 months old, Georgette became a Jewish refugee.
Her parents sought freedom first in France and then in New York. Removed from the trauma of war, the family sought a new life in America.
In Georgette’s words, she has never forgotten those harrowing experiences that left an indelible mark on her journey.
For those of us as Jews and Christians who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our worldview reserves a place for redemption from the effects of devastation and destruction. The Jews are walking witnesses to this reality – century after century.
Decades later, Dr. Bennett, now the widow of the esteemed late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, was faced with the question of what could she could do in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, a humanitarian disaster affecting millions of Syrians, most of whom were enemies of Israel and who were mostly Muslims but also Christians.
But, a scripture text from Leviticus would not leave Georgette’s mind.
"Thou shalt not stand idly by while the blood of your neighbor cries out from the earth.” (Leviticus 19:16)
Shaped by the tragedies in her own family’s past, Georgette decided to address head-on a portion of the impossible situation that confronted her from the reports arising from the Middle East.
From the time of that first decision to extend a hand to “the stranger” outside her own faith community, Georgette’s organization, the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, has amassed and distributed $245 million in aid to the displaced refugees, reaching more than 2.5 million war victims in their desperate need.
Consider, a child born in the Holocaust, a Jew originally struggling to survive in a culture foreign to her own, a woman, a widow. And yet, what a difference she has made.
WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?
The Jewish community embodies a value for humanity like no other people I have ever encountered. Out of the ashes of their own disappointments, this resilient people keeps finding a way to translate their tragedies into innovation that exports hope to the world.
When I first heard about the people of southern Israel, who used the rocket fragments left over from what that had been fired at them from the Gaza Strip – hammering them into beautiful pieces of art, such as flowers and menorahs – I was astonished.
Or the people of Rehovot, Israel, in the War of Independence in the 1940s, who found a way to secretly manufacture bullets underneath the bakery and laundromat of a kibbutz in order to supply the war effort. Where were they doing it? Just a couple hundred yards away from the enemy’s outpost, right underneath their noses.
If necessity is the mother of invention, the need of the Jewish people has produced a world of ingenuity, such that the world is actually better off now for what the Jews have accomplished under extreme duress.
If Georgette, who had so many reasons not to care, can extend a hand to work tirelessly on behalf of Muslim and Christian refugee families in Syria, what is your next small step to implementing the impossible?
Georgette offered all of us a powerful 3-step approach to begin making a difference: 1) find an entry point where you have a connection to get involved, then 2) identify a gap where a need can become a place of impact, and 3) fill that gap with something doable that you can work towards… starting now.
The story of the Jewish people is one of their indomitable spirit and their ability to turn hate into hope, trauma into triumph.
What I learned from Georgette Bennett is that I have a lot more at my disposal than I think I do – tools for repairing the world – just as the principle of tikkun olam challenges us to do. Much has already been entrusted to me and to you.
The question for you and me is, what are we going to do with it?
Click below to watch the entire video interview with Dr. Georgette Bennett.
Bishop Robert Stearns is the founder and executive director of Eagles' Wings, a global movement of churches, ministries, and leaders.