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

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