Moti Kahana, founder of the humanitarian organization Amaliah came to Stony Brook University on March 19th to speak at a lecture organized by the Israeli American Council (IAC)-Mishelanu.
Kahana, who was born in Jerusalem and currently resides in New Jersey, founded the organization which advocates for Syrian human rights in 2013. He originally became involved with the nation in 2011 by supporting efforts for democracy.
Kahana was inspired to help Syrians when he visited the Holocaust Museum in Israel. Reflecting on the murder of his own family members by government forces in the 1940s, he saw history repeating itself in Syria.
“We said never again. It doesn’t mean to us as Jews only, it means to humanity.”
Syria’s civil war began in March 2011 after demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s regime were violently repressed. In the seven years of this multi-armed conflict, over 500,000 Syrians have been killed. Many have also been forced to flee their homes, leaving over 11 million to reside in neighboring countries or refugee camps.
One of Amaliah’s missions is supporting the establishment of a safe zone in South Syria where Israelis can help people in need of a safe area. They hope to accomplish this through the use of diplomacy and providing refuge, transporting food, building hospitals, and reopening schools in the area.
“When the UN could not get food into Syria, we went into Syria,” Kahana said.
“Bus of Angels,” another Amaliah initiative, transports children and their families from Syria to an Israeli clinic, where the children receive medical care. Amaliah is able to connect with people interested in this program through social media, like WhatsApp and Facebook.
During his lecture, Kahana discussed the tensions between Israel and Syria which have persisted for many years. Through “Bus of Angels,” however, Israelis and Syrians are overcoming their historically strenuous relationship for the greater good.
Now This, a video news company, released a video on the initiative, which has received over 576,000 views on Facebook.
“Some Syrian told me ‘who is my enemy and who is my friend? Is the one who is killing me, my government, or my neighbor, which is saving me?’,” said Kahana in the Now This video.
Kahana was quite impressed by the number of positive responses he received from the video.
“The people are good people. They wanted to do something. They wanted to help,” he explained.
After spending seven years working towards improving conditions in Syria, Kahana realized that he had been unsuccessful in creating change; it would be most effective with money. Now, Kahana is working on a new business venture, a cryptocurrency called the “People’s Coin.”
“People’s Coin” is a cryptocurrency which aims to replace oppressive Syrian banknotes and would have the ability to cross borders. It will be distributed in 30 villages in the safe zone. Kahana noted that creation of currency has been used in revolutions throughout history and hopes that this idea will move far beyond Syria to other areas of crisis.
Eilona Feder, an Israeli international student and intern at IAC-Mishelanu, aided in the organization of the lecture after being inspired by Kahana in past conferences.
“I was trying to raise awareness to the importance of acting and first of all knowing,” Feder explained.
The importance of awareness was a theme at the Monday night lecture. Kahana described his belief that people could contribute to anti-war efforts through conversation and awareness.
“It’s interesting that he was not asking for donations and I think that resonated with students,” remarked Robert Presser, a Stony Brook graduate student and intern at Hillel, a Jewish campus organization. “Asking for social media support and outreach and probably above all else, having those one-on-one conversations with individuals and finding out how we can each kind of give our time or give our efforts and raise awareness to these issues so we can solve them as a people.”
“If you care for humanity … call your senator, send an email. Take two seconds: shoot an email, tweet about it, Facebook about it, and say, ‘Listen this needs to stop,” Kahana urged. “The killing of women and children needs to stop. And we can do it. We can seriously do it.”