Unsung Volunteer Helps Refugees

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Article reprinted with permission from the Cleveland Jewish News.

By Amanda Koehn

Gayle Horwitz, right, bonded naturally with Jesca Kankundiye, who immigrated to the United States in January 2016, in that they both had baby boys the year they met. Horwitz's son, Ashton, is at left, with Kankundiye's son, Baraka Sibomana.

Women’s Philanthropy ‘unsung’ volunteer Horwitz talks about helping refugees

Gayle Horwitz told 450 women about the importance of helping refugees adjust to the U.S. at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s annual Women’s Philanthropy Spring Luncheon May 18 at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.

Horwitz, of South Euclid, received the Irene Zehman Volunteer Award for “unsung” volunteers in the community for her work with US Together, a local refugee resettlement organization. For more than a year, Horwitz and her family has had an “adopted” Congolese refugee family that they helped adjust to life in the area.

“Right away, I tried to find them everything they could possibly need, as if they were my own family,” Horwitz said in a video, prior to accepting the award.

Also at the program, Sharon Tal, the designer who revitalized the Israeli luxury brand, Maskit, gave the keynote talk and showed off designs.

While the attendees munched on colorful salads, mango gazpacho and strawberry mousse, Horwitz told the audience how after hearing about the Syrian refugee crisis a couple years ago, she decided she had time and resources to help a refugee family.

“Refugees are not strangers, they are our friends, and our neighbors and they need our help,” said Horwitz, who also works as a civil rights lawyer and has two children, Sam, 3, and Ashton, 4 months.

She thanked her family, including her husband, Matt Besser, as well as US Together and the Congolese family of five, the Sibomana-Kankundiyes, with whom she is now good friends.

Horwitz also discussed how Jewish history taught her to help those with different backgrounds.

“As Jews we have this part of this history for thousands of years of being driven out of our homelands (and) made to feel unwelcome. I always wondered when I learned about the times in history, ‘What was it like for everyone else who was watching this? Were there people who just saw this and turned away?’” she asked.

For making time to help others, she said a good rule of thumb is to, “just say yes and ask questions later.”

In the keynote speech, Tal discussed how she came back to Israel to have her first child after working with famous designers, like Alexander McQueen, in Europe. She saw an opportunity to improve luxury fashion in Israel, which had lost its fashion standing in world since the 1960s and ’70s.

Tal told the group about how, along with Maskit’s founder Ruth Dayan, who is 99 years old, she revamped the classic brand, which had gone bankrupt.

“I realized that the design part of Israel … we are so creative in Israel, and we can do something to let the world know that we are good, and they can gain inspiration from Israel,” she said.

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