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Sponsor a Refugee

Help Mizrachi Bayit Bring Zewdi to Canada

Please join Les Lightstone in creating a Mizrachi Bayit-centred sponsorship group to help bring Zewdi to Canada.

The following letter to the shul is from Les Lightstone. Please contact Les at 416-635-7356 or by email to get involved.

As most of you know Israel is now facing a complex issue regarding the handling of African migrants who fled dire circumstance in Eritrea which most of us can only imagine due to our exposure to holocaust literature.

We have been approached by my daughter Vardit and asked it the shul would sponsor one of these migrants, Zewdi, her infant daughter, and her brother.  Back in the 1980s I was part of a shul group (through Shaarei Shomayim) that sponsored a family of Vietnamese Boat People (for those of you not old enough to remember  that international incident here is a little clip (  It was a very rewarding experience to know that you have taken someone from an untenable living situation and provided them an opportunity to to be a contributing of our great country Canada.  This is something that someone, the Government, family, friend, or organization did for our our parents or (great) grandparents, and now we reap the benefits. Now is the time to pay it forward!


About Zewdi

As told by Ilana Pinshaw.

Zewdi was living in her village with her two children, running a hairdressing shop, when her husband deserted the army and escaped from Eritrea. He had been a soldier from 1995 to 2010, subject to compulsory conscription and presumably to extremely harsh conditions. The soldiers in his unit had some kind of a problem – he never told her exactly what happened, but he escaped and left Eritrea. She only knew that he was leaving after he was out of the country.

After her husband escaped, soldiers came around to her house to threaten her to reveal where her husband was. They came three times, repossessed her shop and land, forcing her to move with her children to live with her parents. Certain that the next time they would arrest her, she escaped to hide in another village nearby. She knew of others in her village whose husbands had deserted, and the army had come after all their wives, imprisoning them indefinitely. Soon thereafter, her parents warned her that the army had located her and that she should take care of herself – so she left Eritrea.

She escaped with one girl, a friend. They walked for days with no food or water. A man helped her and her friend get out of Eritrea, walking all the way to Khartoum, Sudan, travelling at night and hiding from the soldiers.

She lived in Khartoum for about nine months, working there as a hairdresser and learning to speak Arabic. Eventually she illegally left Sudan for Egypt, facing another incredibly difficult journey, which I will not go into detail about at this time, but involved unfathomable cruelty. Even during that difficult time, she was considered the "mother" of the group, taking care of those who suffered more, saving the life of another who travelled with them.

Paid smugglers again got them from Sinai into Israel, bribing the Egyptian soldiers to let them pass. Upon reaching the border, they were allowed to pass into Israel. She was taken directly to Sahronim prison (as was Israeli policy at the time), and kept there for 1 year and 7 months (presumably released due to the high court ruling that forbade the indefinite imprisonment that was then policy).

In Israel she has been working as a hairdresser. Newly out of prison, she joined a business course run by the NGO Microfy (where I met her), and due to her performance in the class and strong business plan presented, was granted a loan to open her own hairdressing store. The store was highly successful, as she is considered a very proficient hairdresser, specialising in the complicated styles and weaves of the local African communities. She was also a proficient business woman. Unfortunately, due to a series of family tragedies, including the death of one of her sisters, she had to send large amounts of money invested in the shop to family in Eritrea, and was forced to close it. She has since been working as a hairdresser in other salons.

Zewdi speaks some English and Hebrew, as well as Tigrinya and Arabic. Most has been self-taught, though she is planning to start an English course soon through the Eritrean women's center.

She had been living with her husband and one brother in Israel, however  a few months ago her husband moved out, and another brother has moved in to help her pay the rent and care for her two year old child. This brother, aged 33, has been working as a carer in an old age home. He is studying English and Hebrew three times a week. He is reliable and is a good support system in place of her husband, who even before he left had been unreliable: not contributing to rent, support of his child in Israel or sending money to support the children in Eritrea. Her husband visits once or twice a month, she's maintaining cordial relations so that she will be able to keep her child, however does not want him to come with her to Canada. She prefers, if possible, to stay with her older brother, who has been a very strong support, and who recently moved in with her to help her, particularly as she has been having some health issues lately.

She is also worried about her brother; for now it has been relatively easy for her to renew her visa, because she has a child. It is difficult for her brother – he doesn't have a visa now and doesn't know if the next time they go to the ministry if it will be renewed. He too deserted the army in Eritrea after being sent to prison many times and beaten severely.

She is also of course worried about her two children back in Eritrea, girls aged 13 and 15. Her older daughter has epilepsy and no access to medication. She's had to drop out of school due to continued fits. Because her daughter left school due to her condition, she isn't allowed any freedom of movement; she doesn't have the official forms that allow you to move from one village to another. If she is even caught outside her house the soldiers will ask her for her papers. If they catch her, they will take her to the army. Zewdi has a niece who is also 15, and she has been in prison for 3 months because she dropped out of school. Her children are still living with her parents, and she sends money for them, but they desperately miss their mother and her greatest dream is to be reunited with them, something that is unfortunately not possible in Israel where she does not enjoy refugee status.

If she was to go back to Eritrea, for the double reason that she left the country illegally (it is very rare to get permission to leave the country), and because her husband deserted the army, they will take her back to prison. She is very stressed about her children being alone in Eritrea, she misses her family, her children especially, but she cannot go back because it would be risking her life, and even if they were to only throw her in prison – how could she support her children from there?

I can attest that Zewdi is a strong, intelligent and self-sufficient woman who has had to cope with incredible hardship. She would be a successful member of any society given access to basic rights to work, have access to medical care, and education for her children. Thank you for considering this support.

A few FAQs

  • Who would we be sponsoring?
    Zewdi, her toddler daughter and Zewdi’s adult brother Ristom.

  • What about her other children?
    They are stuck in Eritrea and are beyond our help.  If they escape Eritrea, Zewdi can bring them here herself once she is established.

  • When might Zewdi be arriving?
    Given the nature of the process, probably not for at least another  8 months.

  • What are our obligations?
    These include helping them to:

  • find housing that meets their needs

  • find English or French language training

  • find a job and make friends

  • learn about Canadian culture and values

  • learn about the services in their community

  • Note we will have access to JIAS and other community agencies to help with the above.

  • What about Financial obligations?
    As a sponsoring group we are obligate to meet their financial needs for one year after the refugees arrive in Canada or until the refugees are self-supporting.  Notes:

    • The government estimates this to be about $24,200

    • We have benefactor who will provide the difference between  what we can fundraise and $29,000. This is very generous and since I don’t want to take advantage of our benefactor we should make a serious attempt at fundraising for this project.

Please join me in creating a Mizrachi Bayit centered sponsorship group to help bring Zewdi to Canada

Contact me at 416-635-7356 or by email:


Thank you,

Les Lightstone

Wed, June 19 2019 16 Sivan 5779