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.

Refugee Resettlement Update from Rabbi Renee Bauer – 6/9/17

Immigration and Faith panel at the Carnegie Corporation of New York: Pastor Rich Nathan, Reverend Jennifer Butler and Rabbi Renee Bauer (Father James Martin not photographed here).

As I looked out the taxi window and saw the Welcome to New York City sign, I had a clear sense of my purpose the next day. I was bringing to the halls of power the message of the refugees we were settling, the DACA students we have assisted and the many immigrants who have been clients of JSS. How profound that my grandparents arrived in this city and saw some version of the welcome sign as refugees themselves. I was here now because they were welcomed then.

I had the privilege to speak on June 1 at the quarterly board meeting of the Carnegie Corporation of New York on a panel about faith and immigration. I brought stories of the families we have resettled here in Madison and the bridges we are building between faith communities as we do this work. In our next email update we will share a podcast that the Carnegie produced of the panel participants.

As I was making the presentation in New York, volunteers were working hard here in Madison to prepare the permanent apartment of our newest refugee family. The family of a single mother and three young children had arrived to the country in mid-May and had been living in temporary housing. This family is beginning to settle now into their new home. Meanwhile our refugee staff members and volunteers are preparing to welcome the next family to arrive. Our first Iraqi family will arrive on June 20 which is World Refugee Day.

The UN declared June 20 World Refugee Day in 2001 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It has become a day to celebrate and honor the vast contributions that refugees make. It is also an opportunity to rally increased welcome and support for refugees.

In preparation for World Refugee Day JSS is joining the Stand With Refugee Campaign from June 12-16 to call lawmakers and send a powerful message: We welcome refugees. The goal of the week is to flood the switchboard of Congress with messages that citizens across the country believe in the United States remaining a welcoming country. We ask you to participate:
  • Call 1-844-4STAND5 (1-844-478-2635) during this week, and we’ll connect you directly to your representative and senators. And then email Rabbi Renee Bauer at JSS to let her know you made the call.
  • Text “STAND” to 313131 to receive a reminder about the campaign.
  • Encourage your family, friends and co-workers from around the country to do the same.
  • To learn more, see or email

An Update from the JSS Refugee Resettlement Team – 5/12/17

“It is not up to you to complete the task but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:21).

Rabbi Bauer, Bob Skloot and Cynthia Hirsch meet with Congressman Marc Pocan

This has been a week of swirling national news that moves so quickly and makes change seems beyond our control. Despite the changing headlines the JSS refugee resettlement team continues to stay focused on the project of welcoming new families to our community while advocating for our country to keep our borders open. We write you this update as an antidote to the helplessness that can arise from the current events of the day.

1.  JSS Case workers Rihab Taha and Becca Schwartz are working hard with volunteers to prepare for the next family who will arrive next week. This Congolese family is made up of a mother and three children. Plans are being made to give extra support to this single mother. If you speak Swahili and would be able to volunteer with JSS, please contact Rihab.

2. As new families arrive our original families are feeling more settled in Madison. The three first families have been here more than 90 days. Ninety days marks a shift in the official status of the resettlement effort as it means that the initial period of Resettlement and Placement is complete. In the first 90 days the State Department dictates several core services that the resettlement agency (JSS) must provide to the new families. These include setting up health assessments, enrolling adult family members in ESL classes and children in school, a cultural orientation to life in the U.S., an introduction to public transportation and much more. Although families have some more grounding in the US and most have jobs after 90 days they still need a lot of support. As we have always done with our clients, JSS continues to serve families after the initial 90 day period. We have committed to work with the families we resettle until they are independent and thriving in our community and that does not dramatically change after the initial resettlement period.
3. Earlier this week Rabbi Bauer spoke at Holy Wisdom Monastery on a panel about the intersection of spirituality and politics, sharing the work that JSS is doing as we live up to our tradition of welcoming the stranger.
4. On Wednesday Rabbi Bauer and two JSS volunteers, Bob Skloot, and Cynthia Hirsch, met with Congressman Marc Pocan. We shared the details of our local resettlement efforts and ask for his help and advice on advocating for the continuation of the refugee program in the 2018 budget. We will be asking you in early June to join us in a national effort to bombard congress with phone calls advocating for refugees. Please watch for updates.

An Afghani Father Reunites with His Daughter Here in Madison – 4/21/17

JSS Resettlement Team and Volunteers and Family Help to Resettle

We hope all of you in the Jewish community had a joyful Passover. The holiday of Passover is over but the journey to freedom has just begun. Passover celebrates the liberation from Egypt but it is during the current period on the Jewish calendar, the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, that we recount our people’s long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Similarly, we know that as we welcome refugees to our community that their journey to safety and security does not end when they arrive in the United States. They have a long journey to establish a life here in their new country and JSS walks the road to independence with them each step of the way.
We began the journey with a new family this week. On Wednesday evening our JSS resettlement team greeted an Afghani family of four as they stepped off the bus in Madison. This is the first family we are resettling that has family here in the US. Watching the grown daughter reunite with her father and his family was heartwarming. This family arrived on a Special Immigrant Visa which means they have helped the US military in Afghanistan and are under threat in their country because of this service. Legally this family is in a different category than other refugees, but also are leaving their country because of imminent danger. Once here, they will also need to learn English, find jobs and acculturate to this country.
This Passover we retold the story of our people’s escape from oppression and now we count the days of their journey through the wilderness. We are commanded to tell the Passover story as if Exodus happened to us in our own day. How better can we do this than by helping to assure that those fleeing war in other countries are welcomed into our country. We urge you to continue to advocate for and support the refugees coming to Madison.
Thank you for all your support.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney




(Thank you all all of the participants at our Volunteer Orientation. Here are some of them.)

Action Items:

  • Volunteer orientations: We have two volunteer orientations for current and interested volunteers. The first was today and we had over twenty volunteers. The second is on Monday, April 24th at the Sequoya Library, 5:30pm-7:30pm. Please email Becca Schwartz  if you are interested.
  • Donate to the newly arrived families. See this link for current needs: can also use this link to donate toward helping pay two months of rent for each family. The JSS team and board have decided that we want to raise these funds to help the families a bit longer while they are acclimated. The donations that we receive from the community will help us to reach our goals.
  • Advocate for Refugees by calling your senators and representatives to show your support for the federal refugee program. See details here “How to Stand Up and Fight Back for Refugees”.
  • March for Refugees: May 1st is International Worker’s Day which is an historic day to respect the contributions of workers, organize in support of workers’ rights, and demonstrate solidarity with immigrants. This May 1st, there are marches and rallies around the country to resist President Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim policies. Locally there are actions in Madison and Milwaukee:
    • MADISON MAY DAY RALLY: Day Without Immigrants and Refugees Monday, May 1 at Brittingham Park 11:00 am.
    • STATEWIDE RALLY: Day without Latinos, Immigrants & Refugees. Monday, May 1, 12:00-3:00 PM in Milwaukee. Please go to for details