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The Schmooze

Elizabeth Bromstein Walks Like A Refugee — Literally

Bromstein and her family.

Bromstein and her family. Image by Elizabeth Bromstein

Elizabeth Bromstein is walking the walk for refugees — literally.

The 47-year-old digital marketer, her pianist husband, and their six-year-old daughter journeyed nearly 85 miles on foot from their Toronto home to Niagara Falls, Ontario this month. The goal: Raising money to help resettle refugees being held at the Australian government’s notorious detention center in Papua New Guinea.

The couple concocted a slick web site for their long march — Walk Like a Refugee – complete with sponsorship buttons and social-media tags. By the time they reached Niagara, Bromstein, her husband David Jager, and daughter Kismet raised $25,000. This was the family’s third annual walk, and the longest, Bromstein said.

“All of the money raised goes to refugee resettlement,” Bromstein explained. In Canada, she said, sponsor groups must raise a minimum of $16,500 for each refugee they plan to help start a new life. The money covers essentials like rent, food, clothing, and furniture. “On the one hand, the money required by the government is very small,” Bromstein said. “On the other hand, no one can survive in Toronto on $16,500.” Sponsors also have to guarantee a year’s worth of support for the refugees they help resettle.

Bromstein’s activism was sparked in 2015, when she saw the infamous photo of a lifeless three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, lying on a Turkish beach. But the voices of Holocaust survivors in her family also fueled her, she said.

“We had family members in [Toronto’s historically Jewish] Kensington when I was little,” Bromstein told the Forward. “I didn’t really understand what a Holocaust survivor meant, until I was much, much older and struck heavily by it. My aunt and uncle had pictures – a full wall of pictures – of people who had died in camps. Only Sam and Goldie escaped.”

Bromstein's 9-year old daughter

Bromstein’s 9-year old daughter Image by Elizabeth Bromstein

Bromstein said the connections between that era and our own are clear. “Not a day goes by now that I don’t think about the Holocaust,” she said. “The world closed its doors to the Jews. That’s a parallel between doors closing on Jews and doors closing on millions and millions of displaced people and refugees. I want to be a part of group of people who doesn’t allow that to happen again.” Last year, Bromstein published an essay on Huffington Post Canada headlined “I Will Honour Victims Of The Holocaust By Helping Refugees.”

The Holocaust also echoes for Jager, Bromstein’s husband. “His grandfather has a Yad Vashem medal. In Holland, he was one of the Righteous Gentiles who saved Jewish kids. He had them living under floorboards in his house in rural Holland.”

The couple came up with “this crazy idea” of walking for refugees as a way to fundraise quickly. “The idea was to draw attention to the issue as we raised money,” she said. “My husband said, ‘Well, refugees do a lot of walking’. I’ve met people who’ve walked from Greece to Hungary, from Eritrea to Sudan.”

Next year, Bromstein sand Jager plan to take Walk Like a Refugee to Europe. “We may start in Greece and walk through several European countries,” she said. ”It replicates walks that some refugees have been forced to take.”

For the record, six-year-old Kismet rode out 2019’s Toronto-Niagara trip in a wagon pulled by her parents.

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