I have no idea how to fix Syria. Most Middle East experts admit they don’t either. It’s complicated. The Middle East is littered with the failed good intentions of our political interventions.
Now when we face the complicated in that region, we conclude that the best response must be no response. My own disbelief at the bombings and the gas attacks morphed into heartbreak and outrage but quickly fizzled into paralysis. No action of mine could advance a political solution to end the suffering.
I accepted my powerlessness along with the rest of the onlooking world. I tried to ignore the implication that such acceptance came in the form of thousands of civilian casualties. They were the collateral damage of the complicated.
But my logic was flawed. We don’t refuse to feed one hungry person because we cannot alleviate the hunger of them all. So why refrain from aiding some civilians in a war zone even though we cannot stop the war? The enemy of the good is the perfect.
An entire community refused to succumb to inaction.
Two Jews from Los Angeles – Tamar and Phil Koosed refused to relinquish the possibility for the good. They created Save the Syrian Children and used their business savvy to find shipping routes into areas under siege. They inspired my congregation to break out of our paralysis. And we rallied others.
With the help of 12 Jewish and interfaith organizations, we started our own Big Fill campaign (#theBigFill) and together we collected 5,000 pounds of clothes, an entire shipping container of unused medical supplies donated by hospitals and raised thousands of dollars to purchase more supplies. Countless people donated. Over 100 volunteers ages 8 to 80 showed up to sort, inventory and ship all of this stuff. An entire community refused to succumb to inaction.
Of the more than 85,000 pounds of supplies that Save the Syrian Children has shipped in recent months, everything was accounted for through a double-blind inventory to ensure that materials get to where they need to go. A mere 500 pounds of these supplies were lost when their warehouse was partially bombed. Thank God Save the Syrian Children refused to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
I should note that our synagogue intentionally carried out this effort on the heels of Passover. But the analogy of modern day Syria to the Jewish story of liberation falls short. We did not and we will not deliver anything close to freedom — the Syrian civilians living under siege have no exodus. Our efforts to alleviate their suffering were much more modest. Modest – but not inconsequential. Perhaps, the better parallel of the exodus story is not between the Syrians and the Israelites, but between us and Pharaoh. Our hearts were in danger of hardening to ignore the cries of those who suffer. I’m grateful to Save the Syrian Children for pulling me and my community back from that fate – for helping us retain our humanity.