JSS Refugee Resettlement Update for the Community – 2/17/17

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Yitro, begins with Moses’s father-in-law asking Moses why he is doing all the governance and ministering of justice on his own. He tells Moses, “the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Exodus 18:1). He tells Moses that he must train others to help him administer justice.
Like Moses, the work of resettling and advocating for refugees is too heavy for the small staff at JSS to do alone. We are one step ahead of Moses. We know we need help and are blessed with a supportive community and an extraordinary team of volunteers who make the work of JSS possible.

Thank you to the overwhelming response we received after last week’s email. We now have enough volunteers to drive one of the new arrived refugees to work until winter is over and he can consistently bike. It is amazing to have volunteers willing to help at 5:30AM! We also received two bikes for the men who requested them.

The three families who are here continue to move toward integration and independence. The two children from the first family who arrived in late December began pre-school this week and the five-year-old girl from our most recently arrived family can now introduce herself in English!

While the news on national front is much more challenging than the local successes, there are many who support refugee resettlement in our communities. We encourage you to look at the letter sent earlier this week and signed by 202 Kindertransport survivors and descendants to urge President Trump to keep America’s doors open to today’s refugees. The letter is posted here.

This letter was organized by the Kindertransport Association -a not-for-profit organization that unites child Holocaust refugees and their descendants. Jewish Social Services is proud to stand with this group in urging the President and Members of Congress to protect and welcome children and families who flee persecution.
We are grateful that the courts continue to rule in favor of keeping our borders open. However, in the original executive order that President Trump signed on January 27, he reduced the number of refugees that will be allowed in this country during the 2016-2017 fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000. This part of the executive order remains in effect. The decrease has received less the attention but will have a drastic effect on people seeking refuge in our country. It will also reduce the number of refugees JSS will resettle this year. Unfortunately, we no longer expect the three families from Syria and Eritrea that had been matched with JSS to come to the United States because of the reduced quota. We do expect to welcome a new family from the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of this month. We will keep you updated on their arrival.
We need your help again this week.
  1. We need bike lights for two bikes. Please contact Becca Schwartz if you have some to donate.
  2. Our staff would like to meet with our senators and representatives when they are in recess in Wisconsin next week. HIAS would like for us (and our volunteers) to educate our government officials about the importance of refugee resettlement and to strongly encourage the increase the number of refugees that can welcomed this year. Please contact Rabbi Bauer if you are able to get an appointment with members of congress and she will provide you with talking points.
  3. We are looking for a two bedroom apartment for our newest incoming family. If you know of one (preferably west of the Capitol), heat included, on a bus route, heat included, for less than $900 per month, please contact RihabTaha or Becca Schwartz.
  4. Please sign HIAS’s petition if you have not already.

Jethro tells Moses in this week’s Torah portion that if he gets help from others he will hold up and the people will go in peace. So too do we depend on you to hold up our program and thank you for all you do.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Dawn Berney

Refugee Resettlement Update – 2/10/17

As we finish another week of work and prepare for Shabbat, we celebrate the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the temporary restraining order on the Executive Order banning all refugees and halting entry into the country of people from seven majority Muslim countries.
Jewish Social Services celebrates this court decision that keeps our nation’s doors open to those fleeing persecution and prevents Islamaphobia from being enshrined into the law. We at JSS know the importance of keeping the borders open since we hear the stories of real immigrants everyday. Our legal services department has  been working with immigrants and refugees from  around the world including from the seven targeted countries for two decades. This fall we reinstated our refugee resettlement program and have welcomed three Syrian families to Madison. Our resettlement program was in the media a lot in the last week. See the latest pieces here:
I am pleased to report this week that four of the refugees got jobs and have begun working. We only have one more adult looking for work at this time. The families are getting settled as children begin school and daycare and they all begin to learn English. JSS has expanded its support for the families with a kind and wonderful Arabic speaking caseworker. Rihab Taha is originally from Sudan and has been living in Madison for over a decade. She is working with Becca Schwartz, our refugee resettlement coordinator, the families, and the volunteers to assure that each member of the refugee families get the support services they need to successfully integrate into our community.
We need your help as we continue to support these families and advocate to assure that refugees will continue to be allowed to enter our country. Here is how you can help this week.
1. Donate:
We need early morning volunteer drivers who can take one of the refugees to be at his job for a 6:00 AM start time while we work on assuring regular transportation. We would like volunteers to commit to driving once a week for the next 4-6 weeks (until warmer weather). The drive would be from near McKee road to West Badger Road area. For more details and to volunteer contact Paul at
Layla’s- Persian food with a local flare is hosting a series of fundraising brunches. There will be guest chefs from the seven countries targeted by the executive order. Last weekend was Syrian and Iraqi food and this week there will be Iranian food.
Madison Eats Food Tours — Share the Love Valentine’s Food Tour- A Refugee Benefit for JSS in the Atwood Neighborhood on Valentine’s Day.

Refugee Resettlement Update – 2/3/17

One week ago when President Trump was signing the executive order halting the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days and indefinitely suspended refugees from Syria and put a travel ban on anyone coming to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries for 90 days, members of the JSS staff were meeting with several JSS volunteers who are from Syria and have provided significant help in the resettlement effort in Madison. These families who live and work in Madison have been extremely generous with their time and resources in helping us and helping the new Syrian refugee families. While they themselves are not current refugees, they are affected by the order. One volunteer, a Syrian born physician, shared his concern that his current green card application will be denied and that he doesn’t know what will happen to his elderly father who is in Madison and has applied for asylum.

This story and the many other stories we are hearing make us ever more determined to continue  to advocate against these extreme and discriminatory measure.

The three families we have brought to Madison are adjusting to life here, beginning English classes, and the adults start full-time jobs next week. This week, our most recent arrivals courageously shared their story on the news. We continue to work every day to support these families to assure that they are successful in their transition.

Jewish Social Services had been previously notified that two more Syrian family and one Eritrean family were scheduled to come to Madison by April. Presumably, they had heard that they were going to be leaving the refugee camps in Jordan and Ethiopia to come here. These arrivals have been halted. It is heartbreaking to know that families who have waited so long, who finally had completed the arduous two plus years vetting process, and had news that they would have a secure home, will not be coming. We need to do everything we can to keep our program intact as we wait for the results of lawsuits and legislative battles, so that we are ready to welcome these parents and children when they do arrive.

The ban affects not only many innocent people but also has severe effects on agencies like JSS who are doing refugee resettlement work. Federal dollars will cease to be allocated to agencies during the ban despite the fact that we continue to support refugee families. We need your help today to continue to do this vital work.

This Shabbat we will read the portion in the Torah that describes the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The portion gives the commandments to celebrate Passover and remember the exodus as if it happened to us in our own day. JSS, through its actions of resettling refugees, is a living out the commandment to remember that we were once strangers and that we must care for the stranger in our midst.

Please consider giving a gift to support JSS’s work that puts Torah into action and that gives the Jewish community of Madison an opportunity to do their small part in addressing the global refugee crisis.

Shabbat Shalom.

Very Important Refugee Update: January 27, 2017

A Refugee Update from Dawn Berney, Executive Director and Rabbi Renee Bauer, Director of Chaplaincy and Outreach

Dear Friends,

We write you today with heavy hearts. Our hope had been to write our weekly email to you with stories from our new refugee families and to give you information about how you can help with our resettlement efforts. But instead of writing a piece about how our newest Syrian refugee family is sending their two daughters, ages five and eight, to public school for the first time today, we write you with potentially devastating news about the U.S. refugee program.

As most of you have heard, President Trump plans to sign an executive order that will slam the doors on refugees. Four more refugee families, from Syria and Eritrea, have been matched with JSS but will not be allowed to come if the proposed executive order is signed.

Among its provisions the current version of the executive order will:

  • Suspend admissions of all people, immigrants and non-immigrants, for 30 days from countries including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
  • Suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days, which means no refugees will be allowed in the United States for four months.
  • Prohibit Syrian refugees from entering the country until the President decides that Syrian resettlement to the U.S. is in alignment with the best interests of the U.S.
  • Prioritize refugee claims, upon resumption of the program, on the basis of religious-based persecution (if that person is a religious minority in their country of nationality). This means that Christians from Muslim countries will be given preference.

These provisions, although the executive order does not use this language, is essentially a ban on Muslim refugees. As Jews, many of us are in this country because the doors were opened to our families who were escaping persecution and were given the opportunity to begin life again in the United States. Many Jews also perished in the Holocaust because of immigration quotas during World War II. Our central religious narrative is one of moving from oppression to freedom. The Torah teaches repeatedly that because of our history of enslavement we are obligated to welcome the stranger in our midst.

Seventy-two years ago today, on January 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. The United Nations designated January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day of all days we cannot stand idly by as our country prepares to slam its doors on those fleeing persecution and war. We must speak up for our Muslim brothers and sisters as our country prepares to enshrine Islamophobia into national policy.

Over 1,700 American rabbis, including all three of Madison’s congregational rabbis, recently signed a letter, urging elected officials to keep America’s doors open to refugees. Please join them by taking action today by clicking here.

Dawn Berney will be speaking this evening at the Sisterhood Shabbat service at Temple Beth El, 2702 Arbor Drive at 7:30 p.m. Everyone is invited to attend to hear about the updates on our work and what you can do to help the refugee families.

As the sun sets this evening we celebrate both Shabbat and new moon festival of Rosh Chodesh. Let the darkness of the new moon sky remind us of the darkness enveloping our country so that we may turn our prayers this Shabbat and our actions in the coming days to bring light and peace to all people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Renée Bauer and Dawn Berney

Current Volunteer Opportunities

Contact Paul Borowsky at 608-278-4083 or
We are currently seeking volunteers in the following areas. Don’t see what you were looking for? Contact us and we will try and find that perfect fit!

Bikur Cholim/Friendly Visitor – Visitors make brief visits, does not have to be on a regular basis but can be when convenient for you.

Youth Volunteering, Youth Group Projects, and B’nai Mitzvah Projects – Come talk to us about doing a Bar or Bat Mitzvah project with Jewish Social Services. There are also opportunities for older youth and youth group to volunteer and contribute to the community, develop new skills, and have fun.
Double your Volunteering Mitzvah – Check with your human resources department to see if your company has a policy of matching employees’ community volunteer hours with a monetary donation to the agency for whom the employee volunteers.
Refugee Resettlement Volunteers – Our Refugee Resettlement program relies heavily on volunteers. For more information, see this list of Refugee Resettlement Volunteer Needs.

Refugee Reset – 1/20/17

Today is inauguration day of the country’s 45th president. Any time there is a transfer of presidential power feelings of hope and uncertainty about the future are evoked. This year’s election has heightened such feelings  and for various vulnerable communities including immigrant and refugee communities there is increased anxiety about their place in our country.
At this time of uncertainty Jewish Social Services (JSS) is proud to be upholding its mission and living out the Jewish value of caring for the ‘stranger’ in our midst. This week we welcomed a new Syrian family to our community. The family of three, including a two-year old little boy, are comfortably adjusting to life in their new home. Thanks to the valiant work of a team of dedicated volunteers who prepared the apartment and moved future despite ice-covered streets, the family’s apartment was ready and waiting for them. Yesterday, I visited the family and unpacked the box of donated toys.. The little boy who was restless and jumping of the coffee table settled into to looking at books and doing his new truck puzzle. Today our next family, also Syrian refugees, arrive to Madison.
You can be part of JSS’s good work of providing a new home for people fleeing from danger and persecution around the world by taking action right now:
1. Become an advocate for refugees: We need to assure that the refugee program remains intact for refugees from all countries as the new administration takes office. There is real concern among national refugee agencies that the new president will shut down or severely limit the refugee program in the early days of his administration. We all need to take action now by contacting our elected officials. Please  see our call to action for details:
2. Sign up to volunteer: If you would like to volunteer with the refugee program or any JSS program you must fill out our volunteer application. Even if you have expressed interest previously, you need to fill out the application.
3. Donate to refugee resettlement: JSS is accepting gift cards from Target and other similar stores. We will use these cards to help new families for some initial needs- like snow boots and personal items that we do not provide on arrival.  Direct donations to JSS are also welcome, as always.  Donate here.
We would also like to thank Kurt Jacobsen from West Towne Self Storage in Madison for generously donating storage space to JSS so that we can collect furniture and other goods for our new families. You can get information about West Towne and its  locations downtown, on the westside, and in Verona here.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Director of Chaplaincy and Outreach

Jewish Social Services of Madison

Menorah Delivery Volunteers Needed!

Menorah Delivery for Hanukkah – Celebrate the Festival of Lights by bringing some light to seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Volunteers deliver and set up electric menorahs, return once or twice to “light” the candles and pick up the menorah at the end of the holiday. Have a little visit and share the holiday! The first candle is December 24th, 2016. To sign up, contact Jewish Social Services at 608-278-1808, or at by December 15 or submit a volunteer application listing the names and ages of all participants.