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How Your Community Can Help Immigrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers


What are concrete ways that Reconstructionist affiliates can get involved with the immigration issue? How can communities aid immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers?

We asked Rebecca Kirzner, campaigns director at HIAS, a historically Jewish organization that is one of the leading refugee resettlement organizations in the United States.  Kirzner spoke at the 2018 Reconstructing Judaism Convention, on a panel called “Welcoming the Stranger: A Jewish Value and a Reconstructionist Practice.” She is also married to Reconstructionist Rabbi Alanna Sklover, the new spiritual leader of Or Hadash in Fort Washington, Pa.

“With the global refugee crisis larger than at any point in human history – and with the erosion of both the refugee and asylum programs, it is critical for American Jews to take a stand, based in our community’s values and history,” said Kirzner.

Here are eight steps she suggested communities can take.

  1. Join the HIAS Welcome Campaign: The Welcome Campaign is made up of more than 430 congregations who are taking action for refugees through advocacy, volunteering, education, and fund raising. Welcome Campaign communities receive updates and newsletters about current events and ways to act.
  2.  Advocate for Refugees: HIAS encourages Reconstructionist affiliates to join its August in-district advocacy campaign, and to set up a meeting with the appropriate member of Congress. HIAS can provide talking points, training, and resources to equip communities to make the most effective case for refugees and asylum seekers.
  3. Organize a delegation to the Border:  HIAS can work with congregations to plan delegations to the border to volunteer with our partner organizations.  Here are guidelines for setting up volunteer delegations and pro bono legal delegations for attorneys.
  4. Take Action for Asylum Seekers at the Border:  HIAS is keeping an updated list of recommended ways to advocate, volunteer and more. This list will change frequently, so be sure to check back.
  5. Educate your Community: HIAS has a range of educational materials available for congregations, including “do-it-yourself” program guides, text studies, and Jewish holiday resources.
  6. Provide Support for newly arriving refugees: HIAS recommends contacting immigration and refugee agencies in your local community to inquire about what type of support would be helpful. Many congregations are providing direct support to refugee or asylum seeker families.
  7. More suggestions for involvement can be found on HIAS’ Take Action page, as well as in the Jews for Refugees Facebook group. These sites are updated frequently.
  8. Consider becoming a sanctuary synagogue. Check out this collection of Jewish texts, as well as this guide to the New Sanctuary Movement, provided by the T’ruah: Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, there are nearly 26 million refugees in the world today, with more than half under the age of 18. The vast majority of them will never set foot on American and Canadian shores. What can congregations do to help the vast majority of those affected by cataclysms such as the Syrian Civil War?

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College student Allyson Zacharoff suggests congregations consider joining the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, where she works as coordinator of operations and multifaith strategy. Reconstructing Judaism is among more than 100 participating organizations. According to its website, the alliance “enlists the moral authority of the mobilizing power of religion and civil society to address the ongoing suffering of people affected by the Syrian crisis.”

Zachroff suggests that congregations looking to have a life-changing impact should consider supporting the alliance’s Fund a Container Program. The program enables communities to pay the cost of shipping a container filled with life-saving supplies and to track its progress from packing to its arrival in Syria.

Assistant Director of Media and Development Communications, Reconstructing Judaism

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