Community Rallies around Operation Ezra

by Stu Slayen | Apr 06, 2016

In a Turkish refugee camp, the Qary family of nine waits patiently for their interview with Canadian immigration officials. The Qarys are one of several Yazidi families trying to make their way to Winnipeg through the sponsorship of Operation Ezra, a Jewish community-wide initiative.

Under the coordination of Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS), more than 10 Jewish organizations have stepped forward to help. The Jewish Foundation of Manitoba has recently awarded a $15,000 grant to the initiative through the Women’s Endowment Fund.

“This isn’t just a grant,” says Al Benarroch, Executive Director of JCFS. “Canadian immigration law typically requires that refugees are sponsored in the amount of around $5,000 each. So, what the Foundation is doing will directly save the lives of three people.”

Operation Ezra took root at a program of the Winnipeg Friends of Israel (WFI), a grassroots Israel advocacy organization. The group invited local Yazidi woman Nafiya Naso to a meeting in 2014. “Our purpose was to talk about Israel with her,” says WFI member Michel Aziza, “but it was impossible to listen to Nafiya talk about the Yazidi people without wanting to do something.”

The story of the Yazidis bears striking resemblance to the history of the Jewish people. At its peak, the global population of Yazidis numbered 23,000,000. Over the centuries, this ancient monotheistic community has suffered persecution and genocide. Today, there are 700,000 Yazidis remaining, living mainly in Iraq and facing a perilous future under regional turmoil.

“By April 2015, it became a community-wide initiative,” says Aziza. “We approached JCFS for help because they have experience in immigration and resettlement.”

 “It was an easy decision,” says Benarroch. “On a practical level, we have experience in the area. And philosophically, this is a tangible act of chesed (righteousness). This was us 70 years ago. When we as a community say ‘never again!,” we are not just talking about ourselves.”

For now, two families have been interviewed by Canadian officials and are awaiting travel authorization. Four other families wanting to come to Winnipeg under Jewish community sponsorship – including the Qarys – are waiting for their interviews. And through the grapevine, JCFS knows of a few more families that want to start the process.

“We need to stick with this as a community,” says Benarroch of Operation Ezra. “This is Winnipeg. We have big hearts. We give and we do.”