LIVE from NYPL: Georgette F. Bennett and Shadi Martini with George Rupp: Confronting Crisis in Syria

Date and Time
March 21, 2022
Event Details

The founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian refugees recounts how she forged a series of partnerships across national, tribal, and religious boundaries to impact an overwhelming crisis against near impossible odds.

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Set against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war and the massive humanitarian crisis it produced, Georgette F. Bennett tells the largely untold story of how sworn enemies—Syrians and Israelis, Jews and Muslims—came to trust each other with their lives in order to alleviate terrible suffering. The dramatic tale of their unlikely collaboration illustrates what a few determined individuals can do in the face of inertia, inefficiency, and widespread indifference. It also shows how the novel concept of humanitarian diplomacy offers a beacon of hope for all the hate-based clashes occurring around the world today.

Bennett is joined by the Executive Director of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, Shadi Martini, to discuss their work in Syria. They speak with the former president of the International Rescue Committee, George Rupp.

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Georgette F. Bennett recommends the following titles:


Dr. Georgette F. Bennett is an award-winning sociologist, widely published author, popular lecturer, and former broadcast journalist. An innovative and entrepreneurial leader, she is an active philanthropist focusing on conflict resolution and intergroup relations. In 2013, Bennett founded the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA) and has since worked to raise awareness and mobilize nearly $220 million of humanitarian aid on behalf of more than two million Syrian war victims. Bennett served in the U.S. State Department Religion and Foreign Policy initiative’s working group on conflict mitigation, tasked with developing recommendations for the U.S. Secretary of State on countering religion-based violence. She is Immediate Past Chair of the Jewish Funders Network, and Honorary President of Religions for Peace. Among many honors, Bennett was awarded the AARP Purpose Prize for her work with MFA and recently received an Extraordinary Women Award from the 92nd Street Y. In 2021, she was included in Forbes'   50 Over 50 Women of Impact, and cited, along with Condoleezza Rice and Susan Rice as women who helped shape the course of modern American foreign policy and human rights. Her book, Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By: How One Woman Confronted the Greatest Humanitarian Conflict of Our Time was published in late 2021. Her next book, Religicide, co-authored with Nobel Peace Prize Co-recipient, Jerry White, will be released in September 2022.

As it has with so many other victims of the Syrian war, the crisis turned businessman, Shadi Martini, into a refugee, an activist, and an advocate for greater cooperation across faith and cultural lines. In March 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on those providing aid to anyone suspected of being in the opposition, Martini, then the General Manager of a hospital in Aleppo, and his comrades worked covertly to provide aid to wounded and ill civilians. This secret network was discovered in mid-2012, forcing him to flee his country. Immediately, Martini began organizing assistance programs for Syrian refugees and internally displaced Syrians. In his former role as Director of Humanitarian Relief and Regional Relations for the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA), the nation’s leading interfaith response to the Syrian crisis, Mr. Martini traveled throughout the U.S. and the Middle East, forging partnerships with like-minded humanitarians on the ground who were willing to help by donating or delivering life-saving aid. Now, as the Executive Director, Mr. Martini brings critical awareness of the crisis to the forefront of public consciousness, to encourage activism needed to change the current U.S. immigration policy.

George Rupp is active on not-for-profit boards, in particular for organizations engaged in international relations. Dr. Rupp served as President of the International Rescue Committee from 2002 to 2013. As the IRC’s chief executive officer, he led a staff of more than 12,000 colleagues and oversaw the agency’s relief and development operations in over 40 countries and its refugee resettlement and assistance programs in 22 cities in the United States. Along with the growth of programs in service delivery, advocacy efforts were increased in Washington and New York and also in London, Brussels, Geneva, Nairobi, and Bangkok. Before joining the IRC, Dr. Rupp served as president of Columbia University. During his nine-year tenure, he focused on enhancing undergraduate education, on strengthening campus ties to surrounding communities and New York City as a whole, and on increasing the university’s international orientation. Educated in Europe and Asia as well as the United States, he is the author of numerous articles and seven books, including Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities (2015) and The Heart of Community: A Family Journey (2020).



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