Refugees: Take Just One Action

On Rosh Hashana at the Orangetown Jewish Center, I spoke about the worldwide refugee crisis. (Please contact me at Rabbi.Drill@theojc.org if you would like to see the full text of the sermon.) It was a difficult sermon to give because I did not have a decisive answer to offer to this overwhelming, multi-faceted issue. I spoke anyway because I believe that as a rabbi, I have a moral obligation to present the world as an integral part of Judaism. Judaism speaks to our lives, our beliefs, our decisions. I figured that if I am struggling with an issue, probably you are too.

The basic facts of the crisis: 21 million people in the world today have crossed international borders in search of refuge and more than 65 million have been displaced. Sixty five million means that 40,000 people are fleeing every day and 51% of them are children.

The despair that drives people to flee their homes is heartbreaking. Persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group, refugees survive terrible ordeals: torture, upheaval, perilous journeys, and tremendous loss.

The largest numbers of refugees are from Syria but crises exist as well for families threatened by civil war in Darfur, Myanmar Muslims in Burma, women and children in Central America fleeing gang violence and human trafficking, minorities in Sudan, Eretria and Afghanistan.

What do we do with overwhelming issues too big for any person or group of people? We take one action. We fix one piece of the problem. In the words of Ruth Messinger, “We do not indulge in the luxury of being overwhelmed.”

In my sermon, I pledged to continue learning and talking about refugees. Happily, many congregants have been in touch to say that they would like to take one action, to set aside the politics and help just one person or one family. Many have asked for specific ways to help.

Tzedaka: Give to http://www.hias.org/ or to http://www.womenforwomen.org. If you find compelling organizations doing resettlement work, please be in touch so that I can continue building a list of places to contribute.

Establish a working committee at the OJC: Engage a friend and offer to co-chair a Synagogue Welcome Campaign through HIAS, educating our community and establishing social justice work on behalf of refugees. More than 200 congregations already participate.

Get involved with individuals. Fill out the form at http://www.hias.org/volunteer and receive information about how you can help in one of these ways:

  • Serving as an English language conversation partner with newly resettled refugees and asylum seekers (2-3 hours per week for a year)
  • Participating in a letter writing program to asylum seekers in detention (once a month)
  • Providing pro bono legal assistance to HIAS clients pursuing asylum or other humanitarian protection in the United States (commitment ranges from 25-150 hours, depending on case type)
  • Providing volunteer translation or interpretation for HIAS legal cases (short term opportunities available)

Participate in resettling a family. Call HIAS in New York City: 212-967-4100.

Support a Jewish Yemenite refugee family here in Rockland County. Volunteer to drive to appointments, tutor for the Citizenship test, or help children with school work. Contact Leslie Goldress at igoldress@optonline.net. You can donate to help with rent, tuition and buying clothing for the holidays; make checks payable to “Kahal Adat Teiman” and send to my attention at the OJC.

Organize a visit to MOMA to learn more. An exhibit called “Insecurities” is now showing through January 22, Insecurities Exhibit at MOMA addressing contemporary notions of shelter and calling into question what “safety” means.

Today, I spoke with our Religious School children about Sukkot as a time when we welcome guests into our sukkah. The refugee question seemed quite clear to them. One fifth grader said, “We have homes, they don’t. We have food, they don’t.” A third grader suggested inviting a refugee child into our sukkah. Our impermanent sukkah with a roof through which we see the sky offers more protection than many of the shelters in refugee camps.

sukkah

The tagline of HIAS calls to us as individuals: Once, we helped refugees because they were Jewish. Today we help refugees because we are Jewish.

There is plenty to do if we set aside the larger critical issue and consider the number – 21 million – as 21 million individual people. We can ask ourselves, what could we do for just one person?

With blessings for a meaningful start to the year 5777,

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

 

 

 

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