This Shabbat, Congregations of the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) are partnering with HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for Refugee Shabbat.
At Beth Emet, a group of volunteers has been working with an Afghan family that the congregation is sponsoring through HIAS. Meanwhile, the timing couldn’t feel more intense. We are all watching, with trepidation, the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine, where already more than 500 hundred thousand people are war refugees.
As Jews, we talk about our commonality, of all being at Sinai for the giving of the Torah (or Ten Commandments). To me, this idea of “time-traveling” to align with our ancestors of this important event continues when the Israelites, as refugees, make their way through the desert on their way to the promised land. This enables us to reflect not only on our present experiences but to connect with both our recent and biblical ancestors. We hopefully can better understand what they experienced and help us be empathic to current situations.
During the past two or three months, well over 100 Beth Emet congregants have helped the Afghan refugee family. Why is there such an outpouring of support for this family? I believe that our Jewish history and values, whether we consciously think about these connections or not, attach us to this young family.
Personally, I have been thinking about my grandparents who came here in 1921 from what was then Romania, knowing no English, leaving family behind, and bringing their one-year-old child (my father) to America. Their experiences may have been very similar to the family we have just met from Afghanistan.
The other volunteers and I have been struck by their courage, openness to engage with us, and their longing for familiar things and surroundings. I find myself wondering how I would be able to cope with a similar situation and realize the answer is probably not too well! I have greater admiration for my grandparents, who were never comfortable with English, and who continued to write letters to my father in Yiddish throughout their entire lifetimes. They were courageous to come here for a better, safer life, as pogroms were a constant threat to them. Their decisions gave their children, and later me, opportunities that would have only been dreams if they had stayed. I can only hope the Afghan family we are sponsoring will find safety, growing comfort, and opportunities in America.
Please join us for Refugee Shabbat, tonight at 6:30 pm. Take some time to learn more about our volunteers’ experience with this courageous family and hear from Sam Rose, Director of Youth Engagement, and four teens who have participated in Shoulder to Shoulder, an online training program for future immigration justice advocates.
We are still seeking volunteers to work directly with the family in helping them acclimate to their new life here. Please contact me to learn about volunteering. And, contact Judy Caplan to learn more about upcoming advocacy opportunities in support of refugee communities.
We also encourage you to make a gift to Beth Emet, noting “refugee fund” in the memo, to allocate funds to provide long-term stability to this family - and future refugee families too.
Photo features the Beth Emet volunteer committee supporting the Afghan Refugee family.
Alison Finkel, Rosalie Greenberger, Leslie Levin-Shulruff, Kathy Kaberon, Rabbi Memis-Foler, Jessie MacDonald