Creating Sacred Places: Refugee Resettlement Update 3/16/18

As the sun sets this evening we will not only welcome in Shabbat but also Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the beginning of the new Jewish month of Nisan. It is known as Shabbat HaChodesh because Nisan is the first month of the Jewish year. Tradition teaches that the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary built by the Israelites in the Sinai desert, was inaugurated on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. The inauguration occurred after a seven-day period of training and initiation. As it says on the midrash:
“And on all of the first seven days, Moshe used to set up the Mishkan and take it apart at the end of the day. On the eighth day, he set it up, and did not take it apart. And that eighth day was Shabbat, and it was the Rosh Chodesh of Nisan”. (Bamidbar Rabbah, Chapter 13) It was on this day that the Divine Presence began dwelling in the Mishkan.
At JSS during this week of Rosh Chodesh Nisan we are also initiating a new program, Community Action for Refugee Arrival (CARA). Over the last nearly a year and a half since the initiation of JSS’s new refugee program, we have had dedicated volunteers who have prepared homes, meals and basic necessities for our newly arriving families. This is hard work that happens with little advanced notice. The CARA program, in which Congregations and community organizations volunteer to partner with our resettlement staff to do the pre-arrival work is a way for us to share the burdens and privileges of preparing for new families while harnessing the power of existing community organizations. Just like the mishkan that was taken apart each day for seven days and finally stabilized on the eighth, so too the pre-arrival work is being given a stronger structure with CARA.
Last night we had a refugee family arrive from Afghanistan. Congregation Sha’arei Shamayim has worked hard over the last couple months to prepare a home, collect all the basic necessities and fundraise for this family. They made sure that an apartment was move-in ready for the family when they arrived after a long journey. We are so grateful to all the congregations which have volunteered to take on this task for future families.
It is heartwarming to see the hard work, dedication and care that congregations in our community are undertaking to make sure that newly arriving families are welcomed and cared for when they arrive. I believe that when community comes together in this way the Divine presence will be in these mishkans, these sacred dwelling places.

Make refugees part of your seder conversation this year. Download the new 2018 HIAS Haggadah Supplement to explore the connection between the symbols on your Seder plate and today’s refugee

What Can I Do?

Tell Congress to Cut Funds for Deportation, Detention, & Border Militarization and Permanently Protect Immigrant Youth
Right now Congress is considering funding levels for the rest of this fiscal year and next fiscal year that would expand the detention and deportations, further militarize border communities, and separate families. This comes after Congress failed to pass the Dream Act or another bipartisan solution that offers a pathway to citizenship for our dreamer community. Every dollar that is spent without enacting protective legislation will go toward detaining and deporting dreamers, TPS recipients, long time contributors to our communities, children, and asylum seekers, and dismantling family unity. It is critical that Senators and Representatives hear loudly and clearly that their constituents want them to cut this harmful spending, and instead enact legislation that protects our community members from deportations, family separation, and dangerous detention.
Call Your Senators and Representatives TODAY: Click here to tell them to cut funding for detention, deportation, and border militarization!
If you would like to be involved with the new CARA program, please reach out to our resettlement program at

Refugee Resettlement Update 2/16/18

What does the month of Adar mean to us?
This has been a week of difficult news with the tragic mass shooting at a High School in Florida and the failure of the Senate to pass a bill that would protect DACA recipients. On the Jewish calendar, however, today is Rosh Chodesh Adar, the first of the Jewish month of Adar, the month in which we celebrate the holiday of Purim. The Talmud teaches, “When the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy”. (Talmud, Ta’anit 29a) Adar is joyous and auspicious because the Jews escaped near annihilation at the hands of Haman in the Purim story. The are many joyous dates on the Jewish calendar but none other than Purim affect an entire month.
There is plenty of challenging and disturbing news about immigration and refugees right now, which I could certainly focus on in this update. But in honor of Rosh Hodesh Adar I want to share bits of uplifting news about refugee resettlement this week.
  • Since the last email update, President Trump’s latest refugee ban has expired, and the administration has begun resuming admissions from the 11 countries that had been affected by the last ban. There will be additional screening measures for people from these countries which will mostly likely mean slow and limited admissions from these countries.
  • JSS has been matched and accepted an Iraqi Kurdish family for resettlement and is waiting for travel to be booked so we can welcome this family to our community. Iraq was one of the 11 countries that was part of the last ban so receiving news of an Iraqi arrival is certainly joyous.
  • We have good news from one of the Syrian refugee families that I wrote about in my last e-mail, who has been a ‘stuck case’ (matched for resettlement with JSS but not granted travel). Our resettlement case worker has heard from this family who is in a refugee camp in Jordan. They have been asked to begin their health screening process again, which a positive sign that they may finally be moving toward being granted travel to Madison. We now must simply wait and hope that process continues to move forward.
  • Our welcoming congregations program has begun in earnest. Congregation Sha’arei Shamayim is working hard to prepare for the next refugee family to arrive. Meanwhile, a few other communities are in the process of creating infrastructure to take on the pre-arrival tasks for families that will hopefully arrive in the spring. Seasoned JSS volunteers are an integral part of mentoring these communities as they learn the ropes of the resettlement process. It is heartwarming to see new and old volunteers working together to support the program.
  • One of our most recent arrivals, a family from Afghanistan, just welcomed a new baby. The baby and mom are doing well and celebrating their growing family in their new home.
  • Three Syrian families we welcomed in December and January of last year are applying for Green Cards now that they have passed their one-year anniversary in this country.
May this joyous news be just the beginning. The Book of Esther teaches that about the month of Adar that “The month was reversed for them from grief to joy”. (Book of Esther, 9:22) So too may we continue to work together to reverse the tide for refugees and immigrants in our country.
Hodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Take Action
Even though the Senate voted down the immigration bill that would have protected dreamers we must continue to raise our voices in support of DACA recipients. It is critical that our national leaders find legislative solutions that reflect our commitment to family unity and offer a pathway to citizenship for as many dreamers as possible – without jeopardizing other immigrant populations. Our elected leaders also need to hear that their constituents urge them to oppose any proposal that would prevent family unification, deprive dreamers of an opportunity to pursue a pathway to citizenship, or increase the immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization machine.

Still speaking out: One Year Anniversary of Refugee Ban 1/26/18

This Shabbat we will read Parashat Beshalach from the Book of Exodus in which the Israelites begin their journey out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. At the end of last week’s Torah portion Pharoah finally agrees to let the Israelites go after the God sends the 10th plague, the plague of the slaying of the first-born sons. We read last week’s portion with a sense of a relief that freedom has finally been granted. But this week we learn that the escaping enslavement is a journey and does not happen with a simple decree.

The complication begins when “Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, ‘What is this that we have done, that we have released Israel from serving us’ … and he chased after the children of Israel, as the children of Israel were marching out triumphantly” (Exodus 14:5-8). The Pharaoh and his officials chase after the Israelites. They catch up with them at the shores of the Red Sea. The Israelites are suddenly trapped. They are looking ahead at a Sea that they cannot cross with their oppressors rapidly approaching behind them.

When we read these words this Shabbat we will be marking the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s signing of his original Refugee Travel Ban. As we read about the Israelites trapped at the Red Sea, I will think about the refugees who are trying to get into this country. Particularly I think about the two Syrian families who we were assigned to JSS and we agreed to resettle in late 2016 and early 2017. They are both young families with young children (ages 2 to 8) who have been in a refugee camp in Jordan since 2012 and 2013. They both went through the lengthy process of gaining refugee status and made it to the final stage of being assigned a host city (Madison) in the United States.

Like the Israelites they had been given the decree that they were escaping to a new, safer home. They just were waiting for travel to be booked. The original travel ban combined the carefully planned bureaucratic slow-downs has meant these families continue to live in refugee camps. Their health and security clearances have now expired and so they must begin the process again and wait for the ban on Syrian refugees (and refugees from 10 other mostly majority-Muslim nations) to be lifted. They thought they were beginning their journey to freedom but now they are trapped.

More immigrants are at the risk of being trapped if the administration’s goal of reducing or eliminating ‘chain migration’, as they call it, comes to fruition. Chain migration is really family reunification. The administration is launching an attack to stop U.S. citizens from sponsoring their parents and siblings, and stop green-card holders from sponsoring their children over 18 years of age. If the administration succeeds families will be on two separate sides of the ocean with no way to reunite.

In the Torah’s narrative Moses, by the command of God, parts the Red Sea so that people can cross before their enemies reach them. They are saved and continue on their journey to freedom. We cannot depend on a miracle to free those who are waiting to come to escape war and to rejoin their families. We must make the miracle ourselves by speaking out against legislation that will be ban family reunification while continuing to show our opposition to the refugee ban. Click here to learn more ways to take action.

On this one-year anniversary of the Travel Ban let us together part the seas to allow the shores of our country to be open to those seeking safety once again.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer

Take Action

1. Learn more about Temporary Protected Status for Syrians and advocate to save it!

2. Oppose anti-family immigration policies and support a clean dream Act!

The Trump administration is engaged in an aggressive attack on family-based visas, seeking to cut immigration to the U.S. by over 50%, stop U.S. citizens from sponsoring their parents and siblings, and stop greencard holders from sponsoring their children over 18 years of age. Using dreamers as bargaining chips, the White House is demanding that drastic cuts to family immigration and the diversity visa program be included in any deal to provide Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients a path to permanent status and citizenship. Already, our immigration system is very narrow, only allowing U.S. citizens to sponsor their spouse, children, siblings, and parents, and only allowing greencard holders to sponsor their spouse and children. To deny individuals the ability to be reunited with their family members is to be anti-family and un-American.

Call (202) 224-3121 and urge your Members of Congress to reject anti-family proposals and to pass a clean Dream Act now!

Here’s a sample script: “My name is _________ and I’m a constituent of ____________.

I want Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act now. Will your boss commit to voting against any spending bills unless there is a solution for DACA recipients? I’m also calling in support of family-based visas and the diversity visa program. Family is the cornerstone of the community and the most fundamental institution in our society. I oppose lowering the number of immigrants welcomed into the country and any cuts to family-based visas or the diversity visa program . Will your boss commit to defending family-based visas and the diversity visa program?”

1. Call Congress: Call 202-224-3121 to be connected to to your Members of Congress.

2. Amplify on Social Media: Tweet at your officials and use the hashtags #CleanDreamAct #ValueOurFamilies and #NoFamilyBan. Click here for sample tweets and Facebook posts.

The 2018 Liesel M. Blockstein Lecture

Sunday, February 11, 2018 • Temple Beth El

9:45 AM – 11:45 AM

Maha Mohamed, MD is the featured speaker at the 2018 Leisel Blockstein Lecture on Sunday, February 11, beginning at 9:45 am. Dr Mohamed’s presentation, The history of women in leadership: the past, present and future, will reflect on the current diversified background of humanity and past common geographic existence.

Dr. Mohamed earned her medical degree from the University of Khartoum School of Medicine, Sudan. She completed her residency at Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital and Clinics, Cooperstown, NY, and completed her geriatrics fellowships at George Washington University Hospital, Washington, D.C.; Nephrology fellowship at University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD; and Transplant Nephrology fellowship at University of California San Francisco Medical Center, San Francisco, CA. Dr. Mohamed is board certified in Internal Medicine and Nephrology. Currently Dr. Mohamed is an assistant professor of Medicine at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and she is the Director of the Transplant Nephrology Fellowship Program.

The Leisel Blockstein annual lecture is a joint program of Temple Beth El and Jewish Social Services. Liesel M. Blockstein was a beloved member of the Beth El community and deeply involved in Jewish Social Services. Her husband, William L. Blockstein, also of blessed memory, established this lecture and scholarship fund to celebrate the achievements of Wisconsin women in politics, public service, religion, arts, literature, and music, as well as in other areas of endeavor. Beneficiaries of this fund also include Wisconsin residents (women) who are admitted to an accredited course of study at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in the rabbinate, the cantorate, Jewish education, and Jewish communal service. There is no charge for the brunch. However, we ask that if you plan on attending, that you register no later than Wednesday, February 7, 2018.

Register Here:


Refugee Resettlement Update 12/8/17

As the rabbi at Jewish Social Services I play many different roles including visiting homebound and ill members of the Jewish community. Last week, just days after our last refugee family had arrived in Madison I was visiting with a Jewish senior who had just moved into assisted living. As we sat together he shared with me part of his life story. He is a Holocaust survivor and had fled Poland and come the United States as a refugee. He told me about how Jewish Social Services in Pittsburgh had helped his family find an apartment and how the synagogue and the Jewish community helped his family build a new life after losing so much to the hands of the Nazis.
After this visit I returned back to the JSS. As I walked to my office, I overheard our refugee caseworkers discussing how they were going to find appropriate apartments to rent for the next two families who will arrive on December 13. I smiled. It is a different decade, there are different wars being waged and the religions and nationalities of those arriving at the shores of the United States are different, but the work is same and the Jewish communal response is the same. We continue to help meet the basic needs of newly arriving refugees as they begin to rebuild their lives.
In the coming days Jews all over the world will prepare for the upcoming holiday of Hanukkah. It is on Hanukkah that we celebrate the Maccabean triumph of religious freedom and we spend eight days increasing the light in our menorahs. Over the last months and weeks so many in our country and in the leadership of our country have cast doubt, fear and darkness over the plight of the millions of refugees. These refugees are seeking safety because they do not yet have the freedom we celebrate on Hanukkah. May the candles of Hanukkah shine brightly for justice and may we each take action that will illuminate global refugee crisis and counter the dark forces that are preventing so many in need from entering our country.
Here is a suggestion of 8 actions you can take to support refugees on each night of Hanukkah
Shabbat Shalom and an early Happy Hanukkah,
Rabbi Renee Bauer

Take Action

President Trump and his administration have engaged in systematic attacks against refugees, and we’re already seeing the painful human impact of these attacks. Trump’s historically low refugee cap, multiple refugee bans, and efforts to halt family reunification are hurting our families, our congregations, and our communities. Our capacity as a nation to welcome refugees is being threatened.
Take action today and tell Congress to oppose the administration’s multiple refugee bans and all-time low cap on refugee admissions.
*Please call 3 times to connect with your 2 Senators and 1 Representative

Legacy gift shows gratitude for welcoming of JSS’s senior lunch program

Friends and community have always been important to Ernie Clasen.
Ernie Clasen gets to hang out with some of his closest friends at lunchtime on most Mondays. Nearly every Monday, he drives, (or gets a ride) to Goodman Lechayim Lunchtime Plus, Jewish Social Services’ senior nutrition program, for its amazing food, great programs, and most importantly, for the friends he has found. As a way to support Jewish Social Services and in particular, in support for senior programs and case management, Ernie has recently let JSS know that he will be leaving an estate gift of $250,000 to Jewish Social Services endowment fund.
Ernie started coming to Lechayim about two years ago, prompted by his good friend Dolores Salganick and her daughter. Ernie said, “Then I met Gary Geller. We became friends. We sit at the same table at Lechayim. And when I met Gary’s wife Denny, she told me, ‘You know whatever we are, Jewish, Catholic, whatever, we are all made from the same stuff.’”
Ernie moved to Madison from Germany in 1957 after seeing an ad in a German newspaper for a “pastry man” at Dykman’s Restaurant. He spoke no English, but took a chance. Ernie came by ship to New York City followed by trains to Chicago and finally Madison. He said that when he finally arrived at his hotel on the Square, he only had $3.50. Luckily, Dykman’s Restaurant was only 1 ½ blocks off the square, so he could walk to work.
Ernie’s boss helped to bring over his fiancée, Ruth Fischer and his younger brother. Ernie and Ruthie were married nearly 53 years. The three bought a small bakery on Parmenter Street in Middleton. This business later evolved into a larger bakery and a chocolate company.
Ernie explains why a German Catholic who emigrated to Madison in 1957 would want to leave a legacy for senior programs and services at Jewish Social Services: “the people that I met. First, when I went I thought that I’m Catholic and German. I was worried, but everyone was so nice. And I don’t want the money to run out for the program.” Ernie is leaving the funds in memory of his good friend and neighbor Dolores Salganick.
For more information, please contact Dawn Berney, Jewish Social Services at (608) 442-4081 or

Refugee Resettlement Update 11/3/17

After a pause for the Jewish holidays our refugee biweekly updates are back. A lot has happened with refugee resettlement since we last communicated. However, refugee news is no longer making the front-page headlines despite the fact that the Trump administration continues its effort to dismantle the refugee program and to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country.
This Shabbat we will read from Parashat Vayera which begins with Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers into their tent. They welcome them, give them a place to rest, water and a home-cooked meal. It turns out that the three men are messengers of God and tell Sarah, who is an old woman, will have a son in the coming year. Their prediction, a miracle, does come true. I think about this story in contrast to where we are as a country today. Locally, here in Madison and in communities around the country, people are responding to refugees like Abraham. They are running to greet them and respectfully providing for their basic needs as they set new homes and lives in this country. Meanwhile the federal government continues its attempts to block refugee entry into the country.
Last week President Trump signed a new executive that generally bars 11 nationalities and stateless Palestinians for at least another 90 days. These eleven nationalities made up 44% of arrivals in the fiscal year from October 1, 2016- September, 30 2017, primarily from Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Iran. The percentage is likely an even higher of those who have been approved for arrival in 2018 and are waiting in the overseas pipeline. The countries are Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and stateless Palestinians. All of these countries except North Korea and South Sudan are Muslim-majority countries.
The Administration’s announcement effectively dismantles the refugee resettlement program. These announcements will affect nearly every refugee waiting for resettlement. It also means that we will see very few refugee arrivals in the next few months and throughout the next year.
We at JSS are awaiting advice from HIAS about what this will be for our community. Meanwhile we are brainstorming ways to keep our refugee resettlement program intact during this new 90 day period so we are ready to welcome refugees when they are allowed in. We are angered and frustrated that we have the resources, the community support and strong structures in place to welcome families but are not receiving any new families. Families in desperate situations who have been approved for resettlement in the United States are now being told that their dreams of a new safe and secure life are on hold.
May the wisdom of this week’s Torah portion of welcoming the stranger with open arms lead us to work for more just policies in the weeks and months to come.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney
Read more about the new Executive Order here.
Speak out about the ban here.

General Volunteer Opportunities

The following are some general volunteer opportunities that are needed on an ongoing basis:

Drivers Needed: Help people remain independent! Provide rides to clients for appointments and other destinations on an as-needed and as-available basis.  Requires copies proof of insurance and driver’s license plus a driver’s record check, done at our expense.

Designated Shopper: Help people remain independent by providing assistance and companionship by going shopping or running errands with them. At times, clients may also need someone to pick up groceries or other items for them when they are not able to be accompanied.

Back-up Volunteer Photographer: Take photos at JSS events which will be used for promotional materials and social media.
Bikur Cholim/Friendly Visitor: Opportunities to visit with people in rehabilitation, hospital, or memory care. These visits can be made when convenient for you.
Computer/ Odd Job Help: Elderly and others looking for some help and support with doing small jobs – changing light bulbs, fixing loose hinge, etc. Help also needed to operate and learn basic computer tasks and general electronic devices such as television and remote controls.

Volunteer at holiday, social events, and Oakwood Shabbats: Help the residents of Oakwood Village welcome Shabbat one Friday per month from 3:30p.m.-4:30p.m. Seat guests, pour wine and juice, and distribute challah, interact with the residents of Oakwood Village and their families.

Oakwood Village is looking for volunteers currently to help with Shabbats. Please contact Paul Borowsky if interested. Please stay tuned or call Paul at (608) 442-4083 for updates regarding other holiday opportunities including Menorah delivery for Hanukkah.

One year later the Jewish Community remembers Mindy Wiseman

By Rabbi Renee Bauer
Sukkot is a time of joy on the Jewish calendar but at Jewish Social Services the holiday is tinged with grief. Last year during Sukkot beloved JSS caseworker, Mindy Wiseman, passed away. Mindy who had a long career serving senior adults never reached her senior years. An aggressive form of cancer ended her life days before her 61st birthday.
JSS’s work of helping seniors live independently and make conscious choices about their end-of-life care honors her memory. Mindy was also an early visionary and strong advocate for JSS having a Jewish community chaplain. Mindy helped with JSS’s successful proposal to the Goodman Foundation for a three-year grant to establish the chaplaincy program. In Mindy’s honor, we hope to continue the chaplaincy program indefinitely.
In addition to her dedication to serving others Mindy was a master gardener. In memory of Mindy, Jim Mackman, executive assistant, has planted a garden in the front of the Max Weinstein Jewish Community Building. All spring and summer the flowers bloomed and the blue butterfly statue reminded us daily of Mindy’s spirit. As the garden begins to wither into the cold days of winter we grieve her loss once again. May Mindy’s memory always be for a blessing and may her family and loved ones be comforted among the mourners in Zion and throughout the world.