For Sarina Rehal, making a difference and giving back to one’s country runs in the genes. Coming from a family of political activists who campaigned against British colonial rule, the earliest Sikh migrants to Canada, and a mother who was a social worker, Sarina is the type of person who is restless without a cause to champion. Today, she has forged a unique role for herself at the forefront of bringing together Canada’s Indian and Jewish communities.
Born and raised in Surrey, Sarina is a proud Punjabi Sikh who works for The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) – one of Canada’s most prominent Jewish advocacy organizations. As the advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish Federations, CIJA works to advance public policies of interest to the Jewish community. Its efforts span a broad range of causes – fighting racism, protecting religious freedom in Canada, preserving effective social services, and building support for Israel, to name just a few.
From Sarina’s perspective, bringing the Indian and Jewish communities together is a natural fit. “Indo-Canadians and Jewish Canadians share a remarkably similar set of values,” she said, adding that Sikhs and Jews are both renowned for valuing family, tradition, community, charity, social justice, and respect for others. “In many ways, both are models of how newcomers can succeed in Canada and build strong communities that enrich our country for all Canadians.”
Indeed, that which unites the two communities is often most apparent during difficult times. “Take the Quebec Soccer Federation’s recent ban on turbans,” she notes. “The immediate response from my boss was: ‘What can we do to help?’ My Jewish colleagues saw the turban ban as a violation of their own deepest principles. The Jewish people have a long history of experiencing discrimination, which is one reason why CIJA contacted the Quebec government and FIFA to oppose the ban.” That the ban was reversed, and Sikh children in Quebec can now play soccer without discarding their turban, speaks to the importance of communities working together to defend our religious freedoms.
“Issues that affect one community, often affect others,” says Sarina. While pursuing her Political Science degree at UBC, Sarina co-founded a unique student-led advocacy group called The Africa Canada Accountability Coalition, which evolved into a project of the Liu Institute for Global Issues. Sarina’s activism took her into such areas as Darfur advocacy, women in politics, and student governing – culminating in a leadership award from UBC’s Faculty of Arts and as a Graduating Student Leader.
Over the past two years, Sarina has used her unique perspective to launch a series of innovative initiatives aimed at strengthening Indian-Jewish relations. She developed cross cultural Bindaas events in Toronto and Vancouver; a young professionals’ networking program; and a joint Jewish-Punjabi advocacy partnership promoting health services that address the specific needs of ethnic-minority patients.
Sarina’s latest project is a program highlighting Indian-Israeli business collaborations. The countries’ common focus on innovation, technology, research and development – and as democracies in challenging regions – make for a natural alliance.
When she is not working, Sarina is completing her MBA at the Schulich School of Business (York University), volunteers for the charity Twist Out Cancer, and sits on the Young Professionals Committee of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce.
Sarina’s long-term goal? “To ensure that every young Canadian gets involved in some way—however big or small—to contribute to our country.” For those who want to find out how, Sarina can be contacted at [email protected]