Tikkun Olam means “repair the world”— a Hebrew phrase the Jewish tend to carry with them as a reminder of their responsibility to the world, and one the Cohens live by. “And it’s one that’s inspired me throughout my entire life,” Richard Cohen said.
The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Social Action Committee launched a project called Islanders Help Syrian Refugees. With the help of the committee, Mr. Cohen and his wife Alison put together this project, which intends to aid two off-Island agencies working with families in the midst of the resettlement process.
The mission asks contributors to send financial donations to the Immigration Law Education and Advocacy Project, and gift cards from large chains to Jewish Family Services, enabling families to rebuild their belongings and make a new home.
“We wanted to know what we could do for immigrants, specifically Syrian refugees,” Mr. Cohen said. “We couldn’t volunteer to support people, because they were all off-Island.”
Lino Covarrubias, chief operations officer of Jewish Family Services, says normally agencies receive funding to help refugees settle for three months.
“Within three months they should be settled, have jobs, and be self-sufficient,” Mr. Covarrubias said. “Imagine if I sent you to a country where you didn’t speak the language at an agency that only would get paid three months to help you integrate — you’d probably say, I need more time.”
Mr. Covarrubias said three months did not look like a success model. Immigrants entering the country who are most successful settling are immigrants with connections already established in the United States. But Syrians are coming here abruptly, to protect their families after their homes have been destroyed.
Through the efforts of synagogues, churches, and other donors, the organization privately collected funding to fix this problem, and were able to support these families for a year.
“We feel within 12 months is the right amount of time to help accelerate their English, which is a No. 1 priority to be self-sufficient in an English-speaking country,” Mr. Covarrubias said. “Also get them jobs along the way is basically the goal after one year.”
Mrs. Cohen talked about images of young injured children circulating in publications and on the web. Seeing the conditions families were surviving through stuck in her mind, especially when she considered whether she might ever have to face such circumstances with her family.
“Jewish Family Services expects 15 more families in the new fiscal, and part of what they have to do is provide them with a place to live, furniture, and furnishings — emotional and financial support to integrate them into the community,” Mrs. Cohen said.
Jewish Family Services have asked specifically to place families with small children. And Eastern Massachusetts has a high cost of living, but with good schools and quality medical services, offers families a better chance at recovery, whether it be from PTSD or shrapnel.
“There was a gentleman who received substantial shrapnel. A lot of the time with shrapnel wounds, you can’t take out all the shrapnel, you live with it,” Mr. Covarrubias said. “You know what you can and can’t do, because you can tear up tissue. He can’t do any sit-ups, that’s for sure.”