THE BLOG

The Roma Family Taking Refuge in a Toronto Church

03/11/2014 01:46 EDT | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 EDT

It appears that the church members had installed a small window in the door, likely so the family could look out and determine who was on the other side of it. Even though the church is their temporary home, it was felt, through great respect, they had the right to answer the door or not.

I am speaking of the Pusuma family, a Roma family that has lived inside Toronto churches for about two years so as not to be deported back to Budapest where they will likely be targeted by neo-Nazis.

The Pusumas arrived in Canada five years a short time after having been savagely beaten by right-wing thugs for the crime of being Roma and human rights activists. The choice of weapon was bats. The beating might have lasted three minutes but it was brutal and only stopped when a neighbour honked their horn. Everyone else passed by.

Jozsef, the husband, a sweet man, took some painful wacks to the legs and thigh. Timea was hit in the head and when she pulled her hand away from her ear, she saw it was full of blood. Their little girl, Lulu, was 15 months at the time. For a moment during the pounding, Timea could not see her. She didn't hear her. The little girl's mommy felt her stomach fall, a feeling one only knows when they've lost sight of their child. Death would be simpler and kinder.

Lulu was under Jozsef. He was lying on top of his little girl protecting her from the men who somehow felt justified in beating a man, woman and their child. (How does one do such a thing? What happens inside the mind of the perpetrator that allows for a crime against everything and everybody?)

The Pusuma family decided to chose Canada as their safe haven like many Roma before them.

When one is convinced that nothing else can go wrong, they are frequently incorrect. Within one week of the Pusumas landing on our sores were scammed by a lawyer who took their money and papers. This attorney did the same thing to other refugee claimants who have likely been deported. Because of shoddy legal work a judge determined the Pusuma's would have to go back to Hungary.

Two dozen churches were asked to take the Pusumas in, but declined because it was their busy season - Christmas. So far no synagogues or mosques have agreed to give sanctuary to denied refugee claimants.

Timea is solid, and vital. She has spent her life helping peoples of all backgrounds. Jozsef is a warrior. While in Europe he travelled four million kilometers as a researcher and driver for an EU minister, checking out the rise in fascism and anti-Roma sentiment.

Lulu is beautiful. She speaks to her parents like an adult, as if she is a seasoned captive with a keen sense of human behavior and wisdom. Lulu will not go to school because she is deathly afraid to leave her parents. They share this sentiment. Recently a freelulu (freelulu.ca) campaign was launched asking people to sign a petition "imploring the minister of citizenship and immigration, Chris Alexander, to allow the Pusuma family to leave sanctuary and stay in Canada by granting them a temporary residence permit, while they wait for justice from the Immigration and Refugee system."

This past Sunday I gave a sermon at the church which has given the Pusumas refuge. I thanked the congregants for their courage and bravery and assured them that millions of Canadians agree with their decision to rescue the Pusumas. I likened the congregants' actions to 'righteous gentiles' - individuals designated as such by Yad Vashem (the living memorial in Jerusalem to those who perished in the Holocaust and to those non-Jews who saved many Jewish lives at risk to themselves and their families).

While the congregants at this United Church will not be dragged from their home in the cold and dark of a wintry Canadian night for their actions, the truth be told, our government does not look favorably on such actions and can determine their actions to be obstruction of justice.

Over the next few weeks decisions will be made about the Pusumas. Pronouncements will be heard that will conclude where they live and in fact, how the rest of their lives unfold. The Pusumas are hoping, as are thousands of supporters and fans, that they will receive a fair hearing and that our government will act compassionately and justly with the knowledge that a very dangerous landscape faces them should they be forced to return to Europe.

The window in the door has a curtain on it, a small piece of cloth that prevents others from peering into the small room which houses a Roma family in a church, in Toronto, Canada, in 2014.

Avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org