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.

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

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.

Standing United for a New Year – 9/15/17

Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins saying, “You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai your God” (Deuteronomy 29:9). The Torah then goes on to explicate who ‘all of you’ are and it includes the ger the stranger. At this important moment of standing before God the stranger, who lives among the Israelites, is included as part of the community. On this last Shabbat before the Jewish New Year our tradition calls us to stand with the entire community, citizen and newcomer alike. However, we are living in a country in which the national discourse is increasingly anti-immigrant and our lawmakers are attempting to keep immigrants and refugees out and divide, rather than unite people.
Since our last email to you the president has announced that he will end the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the travel ban on all refugees without close family members in the United States will remain in effect. JSS strongly opposes both of these actions and our work is directly affected.
Because of the Supreme Court’s upholding of the travel ban, JSS has had no new refugee families arrive in the last 90 days and are not sure when any more will come. One Syrian family that we did resettle this winter left in the early summer to reunite with family living in Kentucky. After just one month in Kentucky they decided to move back to Madison, where they felt much more at home. They returned and brought their extended family with them. Therefore, we have two new families with 12 members (and one on the way) here in our community. Our community has become a home where refugees want to bring their family, a community that has the resources and desire to welcome new families seeking safety. It is infuriating and heartbreaking that admissions have been stopped by the government and we are not able to resettle more people during the worst global displacement crisis in history.
We at JSS are doing all we can to assure that refugee program remains intact and that refugee admissions begin again soon. Last week, a group of JSS staff and volunteers (adults and teens,) along with World Relief Fox Valley, our resettlement partner in Oshkosh, met with Senator Ron Johnson’s regional director and legislative coordinator. We explained the details of resettlement work and urged the Senator to advocate to the president to set the ceiling on refugee admissions to at least 75,000. We also shared our concerns about ending the DACA program, offering to meet with the Senator to share stories about clients of our agencies who benefit from DACA. Later this month we will have similar meetings with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Pocan’s offices.
This Saturday evening Jews around the world will gather for selichot services during which we begin the communal recitation of the penitential prayers, asking for forgiveness both individually and communally for our misdeeds of the past year. As we take stock in our actions we must ask ourselves how we are making sure that all our community can stand together and how we are taking action to protecting those who are being targeted by the current administration. We have included easy ways to take action below.
May this new year bring more justice to all who live in our community and all those who are seeking safety around the world.
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,
Rabbi Renee Bauer

The Call of The Shofar – 9/1/17

As the days begin to shorten and chilly mornings become more common our attention turns to the fall and to the upcoming Jewish High Holidays. At sundown on August 21 the High Holiday season officially began with the ushering in of the Jewish month of Elul. During this month that precedes Rosh Hashanah it is traditional to blow the shofar each day to wake us up to the important work of Teshuvah, of repentance and renewal, that this season demands. This year we hold refugees, those who have been resettled in Madison this year and those who are now barred from coming in our hearts and use the shofar to amplify their cries. Please enjoy and share this liturgical piece written in honor of refugees and in protest of the Presidential travel ban.

Refugee Resettlement Update 8/18/17

This Shabbat we read parashat re’eh, in the people are told ‘see, I set before you today a blessing and a curse’. There is a grammatical inconsistency in this sentence is noteworthy. The word see is an imperative in the singular but ‘before you’ is in the plural. The classical rabbis believed that all such inconsistencies were there for a reason, to teach us a lesson. We can learn in this week during which we have seen in clear sight the deep hatred that still exists in our country and is gaining support in places of power, that we indeed must open our eyes and see. Each of us individually must awaken to the racism and hatred that is brewing in our country and collectively we must act against it.
The racism and anti-Semitism on display in Charlottesville takes place in a political climate of increasing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. All these forms of hate are part of a dangerous fear and intolerance of the ‘other’. In order to make our country a safe and welcoming place for everyone we must each open our eyes to what is happening and together decide to act for blessing instead of for curse.
I invite you to take a small but essential act in assuring that our country remains one that is open and welcoming. Over the next six weeks President Trump, in consultation with Congress, will determine how many refugees will be allowed in during the next fiscal year. Please join me in calling on congress to insist that we welcome 75,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year.

See the full flyer with directions on how to call here.

A Tish B’Av Update from The Refugee Resettlement Team

This past Tuesday the Jewish community observed Tisha B’av, a major day of communal mourning on the Jewish calendar, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second ancient Temples in Jerusalem. A central ritual of the Tisha B’av is the recitation of the Book of Lamentations which includes not only dirges but also descriptions of the siege of Jerusalem. The text captures the horror of the siege: the starving of children, the raping of women and defiling of priests.

Refugees that JSS is settling and the millions who are seeking refugee around the world could tragically write a contemporary Book of Lamentations to describe the horrors they have witnessed. Our staff does not know the details of the atrocities that our newly arriving families have witnessed but we know there are victims of violence and persecution that have led them to flee across the world for safety. We hear their wailing when we listen to the chanting of the Book of Lamentations.

However, the wailing has not reached our government in Washington. On Wednesday, the day after Tisha B’av, Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue introduced the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” (RAISE) Act, and President Trump has embraced the Bill. This bill would cut legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade and by 41% in the first year. These reductions would primarily be achieved by curtailing the ability of American citizens and permanent residents to bring family into the country. If passed the legislation would also permanently cap refugee admissions at 50,000.

The Haftarah this Shabbat says, “Raise your voice with power… Raise it, have no fear…” (Isaiah 40:9). Whether or not we will attend synagogue and hear these words read let us each take them to heart and use our voices to strongly oppose the RAISE Act.

As we continue to strive for justice we wish you a Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney
If you would like to volunteer with the refugee resettlement program, you must attend a orientation. As of September 1, all resettlement volunteers will need to have attended an orientation. These will be held at our office at 6434 Enterprise Lane and snacks will be provided. The next one is:  August 21st, 5:30pm – 7:30pm

All of these will take place in the JSS conference room and snacks will be provided.
RSVP to Becca

TELL CONGRESS: Stand Up for Refugee Protection & Resettlement and

Reduce Funding for Immigration Detention, Deportation & Border Militarization
Please call 3 times to connect with your Representative and both of your Senators

Sample Script: “I’m your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and I support refugee resettlement and strongly oppose President Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban executive order. I urge you to do everything in your power to see that the administration resettle at least 75,000 refugees in 2018 and keeps the DACA* program intact. I call on you to protect refugee assistance and resettlement against proposed budget cuts; increase funding for trafficking survivors; and reduce funding for detention, deportation, and border militarization, which only tear families and communities apart. My community welcomes refugees and immigrants, and I urge you to reflect the best of our American values of compassion and welcome.”* DACA stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

For more information:

Refugee Resettlement Update 7/21/17

For all of us who care about refugees and the United States refugee program, the Torah portion we read this Shabbat, Mattot-Maasei, is particularly compelling. We read about the requirement God gives the Israelites to set up cities of refuge when they enter the land of Israel. They are told that they must set up six cities where anyone who has accidentally killed someone could find safety from the “blood avenger” who seeks to kill him. These cities are not just for Israelites: “These six cities shall be a refuge for the children of Israel and for the proselyte and resident among them, so that anyone who unintentionally kills a person can flee there” (Num. 35:15).

At the end of a week when the courts have gone back and forth about which refugees, immigrants, and visitors from six majority Muslim countries can enter into our country, it is striking that Jewish tradition is so clear that we need a place for people under attack to find safety – no matter their faith or nationality.

Not only does Torah teach that nation-building must include spaces of refuge, but the classical rabbis argue that the path to the cities of refuge must be unobstructed to avoid delaying anyone who is fleeing to the city. As Rambam says in Mishneh Torah, “The court is obligated to straighten the roads to the cities of refuge, to repair them, and to broaden them. They must remove all impediments and obstacles … so as not to delay one who is fleeing [to a city of refuge].”

Our courts and our government are currently doing just the opposite for refugees – not those who have committed unintended killings – but those innocent people fleeing persecution and violence. The legal decisions over the last ten days put the U.S. refugee program into chaos. Last Thursday a federal judge in Hawaii expanded the definition of what was considered a close family member and a bona fide relationship with a U.S. entity, which are now the only exceptions in place to the travel ban which was upheld in part by the Supreme Court on June 26.
In the Hawaii ruling the court included refugee resettlement agencies, like JSS, as bona fide entities. We at JSS, along with our refugee resettlement agencies around the country, celebrated this ruling with cautious optimism knowing that it would have allowed all refugees who had already been matched with an agency into the country. On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court upheld the expanded definition of family ties from the Hawaii case but rejected that our agencies are a bona fide entity.
This new ruling means refugee admissions will be limited to those who have a “close” family tie in the United States. Therefore, JSS is expecting that we will not be getting any new families until October when the ban expires.
At this crucial time it is more important than ever that we call our senators and representatives and echo the call in this week’s Torah portion to create a safe and unobstructed path to safe refuge in our country for those fleeing persecution.

Take Action

TELL CONGRESS: Stand Up for Refugee Protection & Resettlement and
Reduce Funding for Immigration Detention, Deportation & Border Militarization
Please call 3 times to connect with your Representative and both of your Senators
Sample Script: “I’m your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and I support refugee resettlement and strongly oppose President Trump’s refugee and Muslim ban executive order. I urge you to do everything in your power to see that the administration resettle at least 75,000 refugees in 2018 and keeps the DACA* program intact. I call on you to protect refugee assistance and resettlement against proposed budget cuts; increase funding for trafficking survivors; and reduce funding for detention, deportation, and border militarization, which only tear families and communities apart. My community welcomes refugees and immigrants, and I urge you to reflect the best of our American values of compassion and welcome.”* DACA stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

For more information:
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney

JSS Fundraiser was a huge success!!!

Thank you to everyone who supported Just Desserts. We raised over $12,000 In addition to beautiful donated space by AMC theater (Sundance), desserts from community establishments specializing in sweet treats, we enjoyed gorgeous floral displays from The Florettes and there was live music performed by David Adler of local bands The Gomers and Steely Dane, volunteer speakers, and a local employer and a short video. Plus, Leora Saposnik, Laurie Nagus and all of our wonderful volunteers were total rock stars!

If you were unable to join us please consider making a donation to our program today. It is for a good cause.

If you would like contact information for any of the vendors who supported our programs, please call or email us. We would be happy to share the information.

Only Do Justice: An Update from the Refugee Resettlement Team 7/7/17

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Balak, the king of Moab sends the prophet Balaam out to curse the Israelites. Instead of cursing the people Balaam blesses them three times. So too, three times now the Trump administration has tried to vilify refugees and end our country’s long history of welcome to refugees with two executive orders and one appeal to the Supreme Court to uphold those orders. Despite the rhetoric coming out of Washington we like Balaam will not follow the call to close our borders and close our hearts no matter how many times we are asked to. We will continue to speak of the blessings that refugees bring to our country and to our local community here in Madison.
Last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing President Trump’s travel ban to partially take effect. The 90 day travel ban for visitors from six majority Muslim nations and a 120 suspension of the refugee program is in effect for anyone without a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with an individual or entity in the United States. Since the ruling there has been debate about what types of relationships will be included under this ruling. HIAS, the national refugee resettlement agency of which JSS is an affiliate, explained the way the administration is interpreting bona fide relationship in a statement.”HIAS has learned that ties to resettlement agencies are not expected to be considered as a “bona fide relationship” for a refugee. This will be in place after July 6, when the U.S. is expected to have resettled 50,000 refugees for the fiscal year. Refugees arriving after that date will be subject to the new rules.” (See the full statement here) As of today, refugees who have managed to pass through the many steps of gaining access to the USA will be shut out if they do not already have family here in the United States.
We at JSS are deeply disheartened by this new situation. Having seen the courage and the need of the refugee families who have already arrived in the United States we ache at the thought of families who are waiting to come and will now be turned away. We will continue, in partnership with HIAS and with you, our dedicated community, to do everything we can to fight back against this ruling. We will take part in actions that answer God’s call to us in this week’s Haftarah portion, “God has told you what is good and what God requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God”. (Micha 6:8)
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney

Coming and Going: Refugees in Madison 6/23/17

Resettlement Update

Earlier this week on World Refugee Day, June 20, JSS welcomed a new refugee family to Madison. One of our obligations as a resettlement agency is to provide a culturally appropriate meal upon arrival. The family, who are Iraqi but has been living in Turkey for 2.5 years since fleeing Iraq in 2014, has a friend in Madison. Our caseworkers connected with this friend as they prepared for the family’s arrival. One of our obligations at JSS is to have a culturally appropriate “proper meal” prepared upon arrival. But the friend said that the family had requested that the “proper meal” wait until their second day here because it would be late and they really missed pizza. So pizza it was. As the family settled into their new home in the United State, several pizzas were delivered. And we learned once again we often have much more in common with these newly arriving families than we would have imagined.

Just as this new family arrived one of our first families is saying goodbye. They have made great progress in integrating into American life with steady employment, attaining a driver’s license and buying a car and they are now moving to Kentucky where they have family. They look forward to raising their son, who is now 2, among extended family. All three of them came to the JSS office yesterday to say goodbye. They were immensely grateful for all our agency and community has done for them in their first months in the United States. The woman told us that she would never forget us.
Dawn Berney presented to about 250 people the Downtown Rotary Club on June 7th about the work that Jewish Social Services is doing in refugee resettlement. And you are welcome to join Rabbi Renee Bauer at Capital Lakes on Thursday, June 29th at 11:00 to hear her speak about our program.

Advocacy Update

On June 12 a second Federal Appeals Court ruled against President Trump’s revised travel ban. The Supreme Court will now decide whether to hear the case. For now, the Executive Order halting refugees from entering the United States and targeting travelers from six majority Muslim countries has been stayed. Because of this and the Omnibus Bill that continued funding for the refugee programs until the end of the fiscal year, JSS expects to meet its original goal of resettling 50 people this fiscal year.

By the end of September the President will make a determination of how many refugees will be allowed into the United States in the 2018 fiscal year. We need to continue to put pressure on our representatives and senators to support stable funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and to support a Presidential Determination of at least 75,000 refugees in FY 2018. Please take a moment to send this request to your representatives. Although the dates of the campaign to write to government officials has passed, it is still important to make your voices heard. We cannot welcome refugees to Madison and do the important work we are doing if there are no refugees entering the country.
In your comings and goings this week do take time to join us in supporting refugees and maintaining our long history of welcome in this country.
Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Dawn Berney.