It's Time to Assist Our Syrian Brothers and Sisters

Peace talks finally began last week in the Syrian conflict -- a conflict that is causing the greatest humanitarian crisis in the 21st Century.

The future of these talks is uncertain. But one thing we do know. We cannot allow the Syrian civil war to continue to destroy the lives of millions of men, women and children. These victims have been -- and continue to be -- forced out of their homes and into countries where they are living hand to mouth with no future in sight.

Last year, I helped convene a coalition of major Jewish groups that raised money for Syrian refugee relief.

Why did I get involved? Because I am outraged by suffering and cruelty. I am a child of Holocaust survivors, was once a refugee myself, and my Judaism says I cannot stand by while the blood of my neighbor cries out.

Anchored by the aforementioned Jewish organizations and convened by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, we have evolved into a Multi-Faith Alliance for Syrian Refugees in Jordan.

Of course, Jordan isn't the only nation flooded with displaced people from the Syrian war. Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon are hosting large numbers of Syrians, and Israel is caring for wounded and sick Syrians who cross the border at the Golan Heights.

But the impact on Jordan has been disproportionate and devastating.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, more than 600,000 Syrian refugees have fled over the border to Jordan. Many are stuck in refugee camps with nowhere to go and left wanting for the basic necessities of life. But many others -- the numbers are unknown -- have fled into Jordan's towns and cities. They must look for shelter, jobs, medical aid and schooling for their children in a traumatic situation. They also face growing resentment from the local populations, where they compete with Jordanians for housing and resources.

So the Multi-Faith Alliance's 31 members have set out to raise awareness and funds for these refugees. The Alliance includes established agencies like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Catholic Relief Services, the Islamic Center of New York, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Church World Services, Episcopal Relief and Development, United Sikhs and The U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

The Alliance believes faith-based leaders and groups have a unique mandate. They can speak with moral authority from pulpits and through their institutional networks. And when their voices are united, faith-based organizations can drive world leaders to fulfill their moral responsibilities.

In recent days, there has been increased attention on the Syrian crisis: the Geneva II peace talks for Syria; the World Economic Forum in Davos; and the Syrian aid conference in Kuwait.

In Kuwait, nations pledged $2.4 billion for Syrian civilians affected by the war. If those pledges are kept, it's a great start on the $6.5 billion in humanitarian Syrian aid the U.N wants for 2014.

Unfortunately, that's a big "if".

To date, governments have not delivered all the money they promised for Syrian relief. For instance, of the $1.5 billion pledged at last year's Kuwait conference, 30 percent has not been sent. And according to a U.N. report in 2013, countries typically produce less than half the assistance they pledge for Syrian civilians.

The Kuwait conference revealed three elements plaguing Syrian humanitarian efforts. First, governments are far quicker to provide military or sectarian support. Second, countries are balking at major aid commitments because they hope someone else will cover the tab. Lastly, a lot of nations are getting tired of requests to help Syria. After all, the global economic slowdown has saddled every nation with its own serious financial and social problems.

The Middle East gave birth to three of the world's most influential traditions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Now, it's time for their adherents and others of faith to assist our Syrian brothers and sisters who are languishing as refugees.

Speaking with a prophetic voice, we believe the world has an urgent choice: foot the bill now to help millions of displaced Syrians or pay a much higher price -- in money and in lost lives. History has shown us that instability, particularly in the Middle East, leads to long periods of extremism and violence that affect the global community. This is a lesson the world should have learned over and over again, yet never seems to take to heart.

As religious leaders from diverse faiths, we call on a mostly-silent world to join us in our common cause: to help the Syrian Refugees in Jordan.

Georgette Bennett, Ph.D. is founder of the Multi-Faith Alliance For Syrian Refugees in Jordan and founder and president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.