tv Beyond the Headlines ABC January 28, 2018 4:30pm-5:00pm PST
cheryl jennings. >> thanks for joining us. today we're focusing on a major bay area effort to show how people of different faiths and backgrounds can work together to help others. in this case, one group went a very long way on their journey, all the way to greece to meet with refugees who came ashore escaping the violence in syria. my guests include erin zaikis, the u.s. executive director of the international humanitarian aid organization israaid. it's made up of jewish and arab palestinians and israelis. abbas maloo is co-founder of the jaferia islamic school in pleasanton and is regional vice president for mutual of america of northern california. also with us is rabbi marvin goodman, nearly retired from the board of rabbis of northern california, and he was the spiritual leader of the peninsula sinai congregation in foster city for 19 years. thank you all so much for joining us today. >> thank you for having us. >> what a journey. and i can't wait to get started. erin, i want to start with you
first. >> sure. >> israaid led the group, and your co-c.e.o., yotam polizer, was actually on one of those visits -- not with this group -- with susan sarandon. >> yes, yes. >> and we have some pictures of that. >> so exciting. sure, yeah. she came to visit our site in berlin. we were so excited to have her join us. >> so how did the bay area group come about? how did that visit come about? >> yeah. so israaid's u.s. office is brand new. we're based here in the bay area. our office is in palo alto. and one of the best parts about being here is the opportunity to bring interfaith trips to see our work in greece, germany, east africa. so with this trip, we decided to bring a group of rabbis and muslim leaders and make it an interfaith learning trip. and so we're really excited to be able to do that, and we hope to continue to do that with our presence here. >> rabbi marv, there were -- let's see -- according to the literature i read, there were nine rabbis and three muslim
leaders in your group. >> right. >> and some women, as well, right? >> right. actually, there were six women and six men. the rabbis and the muslims, we ended up, over the course of time, with connecting with yotam and israaid over the course of a year and a half, we came up with this idea of taking the religious leaders to greece to see what was going on. one of our hopes had been that we would have more than -- we'd have an equal number of rabbis and muslim leaders, but the politics in the country really prevented that, and we're really so pleased that abbas and two other leaders from the muslim community were able to join us. >> abbas, when you first heard about this, how did that invitation come to you, and then why did you decide to join? >> it came to me through a friend, dr. rajas nakwe. you know, he's very involved in interfaith. and he asked me in passing, he said, "abbas, would you be interested in joining this group to a mission to greece?" and it was a no-brainer for me. [ chuckles ] >> so, i know that you're
getting along so well today, so obviously you've developed a friendship as a result of this trip. so, abbas, what kind of common interests did you discover? >> with the rabbis on the trip, we all like greek salad. [ laughter ] but i think, you know, on a more serious note, it was -- you know, when it comes to humanitarian work, there is no religious boundaries. and that is one thing that was clear. it doesn't matter what faith you are in. we're in it together. >> rabbi marv, what was it like for you when you first met the refugees? >> we had been there for the sabbath. most of the rabbis got there friday. and the muslim leaders came in on saturday night. and it was -- you know, we were all sort of waiting 'cause we hadn't met them. we didn't know them. we had communicated with them. and it was very exciting. the thing that concerned me the most -- and i talked with him about early on -- was does this being with jews, being with an israeli organization, does it
impact on their safety? were there any problems that they might encounter as a result of participating with us? and they assured me no. >> and when you heard that question, what did you think about that? >> again, it was something that came naturally. i don't think it was something to be worried about, because when you're doing a good cause, it doesn't really matter. so i wasn't too concerned about that. >> you weren't concerned at all. all right. erin, we met an israaid doctor last year, dr. iris adler. >> yeah. >> who came in with the consul general to talk about israaid's work. and one of the things that just really stayed with me is that she said that the refugees were really shocked when they found out that israelis were rescuing them from the ocean, 'cause they'd always been taught -- the syrian refugees have been taught to hate jews. >> right. >> so, there are so many messages in that alone. >> yeah, for sure. so, for so many of these people, it's the first time they've met an israeli or a jew.
and one thing that we heard a lot was them saying, you know, "my worst enemy has become my best friend, and the people that i thought were trying to protect me are now killing me or chasing me out of my home." and so it's a really pivotal moment for them to see someone who they've been taught to hate. it's really an opportunity to use this crisis to build bridges between jews and muslims, between israelis and syrians and iraqis and afghans. so we'd like to think that disasters bring a lot of opportunities, as well. >> when we come back, you'll hear some of the horror stories syrian refugees shared with our multifaith group from the bay area.
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who escaped from syria and came ashore in greece. israaid took a group of leaders from different faiths from the bay area to greece to meet some of the refugees. israaid says these trips are very effective at building bridges between people from different backgrounds. >> our teams on the ground are made out of -- are comprised of israelis, jews, arabs, palestinians, christians, druze, as well. we also have americans who are volunteering with us. and it's really a face of israel that we are proud to show. one really unique aspect of israaid's work is that our social workers, our nurses, our doctors are very often arabic speakers. they speak the same dialect as they speak in parts of syria, so it really adds a benefit to the work that israaid does and the services that we're able to provide. >> one of the things i saw, some of the video that your photographer shot of the meetings you had. so, rabbi marv, can you talk
about some of the stories that you heard? >> it's a story that i think abbas is gonna talk about, as well. >> go ahead and jump in, too. >> it's a story about the second day we were there was yom hashoah, which is the holocaust memorial day. and it was the day we saw thessaloniki, which is salonica, which was a very prominent jewish community. we saw the remains of that jewish community, which was a very moving experience for all of us, at least all of the rabbis, and i think for the muslim leaders, as well. but then we went to meet with some yazidis, yazidi refugees, and the experience with the yazidi refugees just accented the day and made it so much more powerful. i'm gonna let abbas talk about what happened with the yazidis. >> yeah, i mean, we met with them at the hotel, and there were about three or four of them that came and shared personal
stories. one was when the yazidi refugees, which yazidis -- which i didn't know -- they're not muslims or they're not christians. they're a religion of their own. and they were isolated in the mountains, and the isis folks did not provide them with access to food or water for more than a week. and that by itself was very disturbing, trying to just isolate people and, you know, leave them by themselves. but the worst one was when they were talking about how the isis people were forcing women with infants to take their kids, to kill their kids, and force them to actually eat their own kids. it was just -- it is something that is embedded here that will never go away. i mean, that kind of stuff, you know. it was very disturbing. >> how do you even process information like that? >> yeah. >> well, one of the things that the yazidis talked about was the
fear that they have of any muslim. >> hmm. >> it was -- they were persecuted. the yazidis have been persecuted. they've had 70 genocides over the course of their history. this latest episode with isis is the latest, and it's been declared a genocide by the u.s. congress, by u.n., and other organizations. and they were just overwhelmed by what the muslim -- or what they perceived as the muslim community did to them. >> yeah, you said this was going on for years now, right? >> it's going for thousands of years. there were millions of yazidis, and i'm not even sure how many are left in the world. but it's a continual thing. people just picking on somebody that's different. >> mm-hmm. >> yeah. so, when you heard the story -- i know that it's embedded in your brain, obviously. now that you've told me that, it's gonna haunt me. >> yeah. >> so how do you emotionally deal with that? >> well, i guess the only way to
do is to try and understand their situation and what can you do to make a difference. what can you do to make it better for them? that's the only thing is how you can make up for that. i don't think there is a way to overcome those kind of things that you process. >> all right, we're gonna have to take a short break. and we will be back in just a moment with much more on our interfaith group who went to greece to meet with syrian refugees. we'll be back in just a moment.
>> we are back with an interfaith group who traveled to greece to meet with syrian refugees. erin zaikis with israaid, an international humanitarian group, rabbi marvin goodman, and abbas maloo, who founded the jaferia islamic school in pleasanton. i hope i said that name right. did i say it? >> jaferia. >> jaferia. okay. so we were talking about the horror stories that you all heard from the yazidis when you went on this trip. >> yeah. >> and i was just -- i'm trying to imagine how you -- i mean, it was horrible for them, but then this is something we don't encounter, we don't hear about. so, what did you do? what did you say to them after you heard these stories? >> so, my immediate response was to, you know, kind of stand up and give them a hug and say, "you know what? i'm sorry on behalf of the muslims for what you have to go through." and, to me, personally i thought at the least that is the one thing that i should do. and, you know, their response to that was, you know, not all five fingers are the same. not all muslims are the same.
and that was kind of a good way to not lump all the muslims together in terms of not everybody is bad. >> i'm just curious about the structure of the trip. and were you all in the meetings together with these different groups, rabbi marv? >> yeah, there were only 12 of us, so we stayed together, 12 of us, from the u.s. and then the israaid staff, depending where we were, which part of greece we were in. >> what was the day like? what would a day -- it was like five days, right? >> four days. >> four days. >> the day was pretty intense. early in the morning till the evening. and one of the things that i had sort of fantasized and had expected -- i have a number of friends who did volunteer work in the midst of the refugee crisis in greece. i anticipated meeting lots of refugees and getting to know them, that we weren't in any one place, at least for me, long enough to be able to do that.
but what i was just tremendously impressed by and touched by were the ngos, like israaid and other ngos all throughout wherever we went, the work that they were doing to help these people who were in transition, 'cause they didn't know where they were gonna go to next. >> all right. and that brings me -- did you want to jump in? >> yeah, no, it was, for me, being with nine rabbis initially was very intimidating, of course, but, you know, they are a great group of people, and, you know, not only learning during that process but spending time individually with all the rabbis and getting to know them personally was quite fulfilling, you know. i had never met a rabbi in my life, and then i met nine of them altogether, so it was great. >> and, rabbi marv, had you ever met a muslim leader? >> oh, yeah. >> okay. >> yeah. with my work with the board of rabbis, there's a lot of interfaith work we do. >> of course. erin, i wanted -- rabbi marv and abbas were talking about the work, the ngos -- non-governmental
organizations -- that do so much. what does israaid do for the refugees? how does that work? i mean, it's got to be multifaceted. >> of course. so, israaid works in 19 countries around the world. we've impacted 2 million people to date. traditionally israaid has responded to natural disasters, but in our response to the refugee crisis, we're focused on medical work, so we run medical clinics to attend to the refugees, and we also specialize in psychosocial support. israel leads the world with psychosocial training and response to ptsd, and this is something that we can really use in the refugee camps that we work with in iraq, greece, germany. >> but they're not just all in camps, though, right? first you have to see how injured they are and then you had to get them mental care, healthcare, housing, and food. >> yes. we work hand in hand with a lot of other ngos, mostly european, that are attending to housing
needs, food needs. but israaid specializes in psychosocial support. >> i'm sure that you heard stories that they had to leave everything behind. and i'm wondering if you've spoke with men and women and children during your time there. >> yeah, the first time we met in that first complex, they had -- a man used to own the building, used to run a restaurant or some kind of business, and he saw all his wealth plunder in front of him, and he had to leave everything and, you know, take the boat and come over. so, yeah. >> and what they said over and over again, whoever we met, is they did this at peril, but they did this for their children. >> mm-hmm. >> and it makes me think of, you know, like when refugees came here, the jewish refugees at the end of the 1800s and the 1900s. they did it so their kids could have a better life. >> mm-hmm. >> and that's what they're doing. you know, these are not -- these are good people. >> in just a moment, you'll learn how our guests are
♪ >> welcome back. we are talking with a multifaith group in the bay area who wanted to meet syrian refugees who escaped the violence in their homeland. they risked their lives to take small boats to safety in greece. some of them made it, and some did not. our visitors say they will never forget what they witnessed, and they are actively engaged in helping the syrian refugees in different ways. did you go to the beach where they landed? i remember seeing images of the life jackets that were on all the people. >> there are pictures in the pictures that we took on the trip, pictures of -- i called it a grave, a cemetery of 500,000
life jackets. >> yeah. >> and actually, the israaid people said it's not a cemetery of death. it's a cemetery of hope, because each of those life jackets is an example of somebody who made the journey, survived the journey -- 'cause it's a perilous journey across the sea there -- took the life jacket off, and is now going on and hopefully having a better life. >> mm-hmm. yeah, initially you think, "oh, my god, all these life jackets." but then you think more about it, and it's like, "this is new lives for people, so it's for the better." >> did anybody describe what it was like to just take off, get in that boat, and then -- i don't even know what the distance is. >> yes, there was one person who said to us imagine standing in a boat that's designed for 25 to 30 people and it's got 60, sometimes up to 100 or even 150 people. one of them said there was water leaking in the boat up to their knees. they got kids that they got to hold for three hours like that.
>> how long was the journey? >> it's a little over four miles between turkey -- izmir, turkey, and lesbos, greece. and like abbas said, a lot of the times the boats are leaking, you know, the tank is half-filled with gas, no one knows how to drive the boat, and a lot of the times, the smugglers would just take a gun to someone's head and say, "you're in charge of getting everyone over to greece," and no one in those rafts knew how to, you know, sail. they didn't know what direction greece was in. so that's the reason why over 3,000 people were lost at sea, and many of these people, they don't know how to swim or they've purchased life jackets that are made in china and are actually filled with plants or foam, so they're fake life jackets even. so that's why the journey is so
perilous and so many people lost their lives. >> and actually, while we were there, when we were on the island of lesbos, a boat came in, or a boat was trying to come in, and capsized, and most of the people on that boat were lost. >> i know that your group is doing a lot to help the refugees. >> yes. >> in particular. what are you hoping that these interfaith trips will do? >> yes. we're so excited to be running these interfaith trips, and we're going to continue to run about two or three a year, so if your community is interested in running one through israaid, please get in touch with us. you can visit our website. but we're really hoping to continue to run these trips because it's so important for people to see the issue, to meet these people, to hear their stories, to humanize the issue behind the news, and come back to their communities and advocate for these people and their stories, whether it's policy change or fundraising for the continuation of medical services and psychosocial
support for these refugees. it's so important for us to keep bringing people from the bay area so they can be the refugees' advocates here at home. >> and i can tell the both of you are now advocates for it, because we had phone conversations prior to today. so, rabbi marv, where are you taking this information? how are you using that? >> well, as you said when you introduced me, i retired, and just about a month after i retired, i went on this trip. and i'm just motivated to help israaid and other ngos be able to do this kind of work. one of the things we're doing, i'm doing with israaid is helping synagogues who want to participate educationally as well as financially to support the work that's going on. i'm helping them connect with israaid and helping them to do what needs to be done. personally, i spoke about it a few times since i've gotten back, and one of the things that's being done, i was being
honored by the organizations i worked for in my retirement, and i said to them, "you can honor me if the evening is focused on raising money for israaid." >> that's fantastic. and for you, i know that you're gonna take this in a very specific direction, as well. >> yes, yes. i'm planning on collaborating with another charity in which i sit on the board for. it's called united we reach. and we're gonna try out and see if we can fulfill what the refugees have asked for in those meetings that we met with, which was to have access to education for their kids, because right now they're being fed, they have housing, but what's the point if the kids don't have an education, you know? it kind of puts them behind the curveball. so we want to try and see. we're gonna set up some test projects to see if we can have some kind of collaboration and get started with some kind of education for these kids. religions always kind of separate people.
we want to use this forum to put the religions to build bridges and put people together. >> i think you both found some common knowledge here with your religions, too. were you able to pray together? >> we did at night, yes. we had a special prayer from the jewish with a short prayer, so yeah, we had said prayers. and it turns out that most of the things are the same. >> right. >> isn't that wonderful? so we have learned that we really are all the same. >> yes. >> we want to thank our guests for the work they're doing. we have more information to share with you. just go to our website, abc7news.com/community. we're also on facebook at abc7communityaffairs, as well as cheryljenningsabc7. and follow me on twitter @cherylabc7. thanks so much for joining us. we'll see you next time. ♪
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