A Port Washington marketing executive launched a YouCaring.com fundraiser with the goal of helping Syrian refugees relocate to Canada, but the effort sparked what he described as a mind-blowing amount of blowback.
Dave Kerpen, the CEO of Likeable Local, a social media marketing company, has so far raised more than $5,000 of the $20,000 that Canadian nonprofit Naida Now needs to relocate one Syrian family from the war-torn country. His goal is to raise $100,000 to help five families escape Syria.
“Najda Now essentially adopts Syrian refugee families and does everything from getting all their paperwork together, to helping with travel expenses, to resettling them, helping them find a home to helping them find a job,” Kerpen said.
Syria’s civil war, which has dragged on for nearly seven years, has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and sparked what experts have termed the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Kerpen, an author and former reality TV personality, got the idea to launch the fundraiser after a conversation with his friend, local restaurateur and government official Adam Haber, at their temple in Manhasset, the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore.
“It’s a pretty amazing organization,” Kerpen said. “And when we realized we could do this, it felt like an amazing way to help, given that we obviously can’t bring Syrian refugees to the United States because of the political climate.”
One of President Donald Trump’s first orders of business was to cut the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the country after suggesting that terrorists could be using the relocation program to sneak into the country. But Kerpen said he felt inspired to take up the cause given his personal history.
“As a Jewish person, I consider it part of my mission, as a descendent of Holocaust survivors, to help whenever there are people who are being mistreated and massacred, as Syrians are today,” he said. “It can be very frustrating not being able to help. But through this organization we can actually help real people. So that’s what this effort is all about.”
To the social media guru’s surprise, his online posts sparked more push-back than anticipated after he shared the fundraiser with his Facebook group of about 150,000 members.
“I got some people that supported us, but I got so many people that have so much hatred and were so bigoted and intolerant,” he said. “It blew my mind.”
Some suggested that he focus his energy on caring for American military veterans instead.
“The thing is, it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game,” he said. “I care deeply about our veterans and I think that the way we treat our veterans is a travesty. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore people dying. So from my perspective, to answer calls for love and help with hatred is ironic and very sad.”
He tried to show his critics the light.
“I care about veterans too, send me a link to a cause where you want support for veterans, and I’d be happy to help,” he replied online. “I wish people were more positive than negative.”
Despite the negativity he’s encountered, Kerpen continues to work toward his goal to sponsor the Sheikh Haidar family, which has been separated due to the war. He believes this cause can continue to do good in the months to come.
“I like to think big,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate thinking big in my career… It’s one dollar at a time and one family at a time.”