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

Volunteer Opportunities for Refugee Resettlement

We are pleased to announce that we have set the dates and times for refugee resettlement volunteer orientations for the rest of the summer. Please do your best to come to one of them if you didn’t make either of the first two in April. As of September 1, all resettlement volunteers will need to have attended an orientation. We want to give everyone ample options to get to one. These will be held at our office at 6434 Enterprise Lane and snacks will be provided. Here are the upcoming dates:
  • Volunteer orientations: 
    –         May 22nd, 9:30am – 11:30am
    –         June 22nd, 5:30pm – 7:30pm
    –         July 19th, 9:30am – 11:30am
    –         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
  • 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 get acclimated.As part of this, we plan to cover two months rent for each refugee family that we resettle. 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”.

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

Passover Update from Refugee Resettlement at JSS – 4/7/17

Last week I attended the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Convention in Portland, Oregon. At the end one of my colleagues closed the gathering with a prayer. He recited the words from Rabbi Shelia Peltz Weinberg’s adaptation of the traditional Jewish Traveler’s Prayer which begins:

A prayer for the journey
We could say it every day
When we first leave the soft warmth of our beds
And don’t know for sure if we’ll return at night.
When we get in the trains, planes and automobiles
And put our lives in the hands of many strangers
Or when we leave our homes for a day, a week, a month or more –
Will we return to a peaceful home? Untouched by fire, flood or crime?
How will our travels change us?
What gives us the courage to go through the door?

As I heard these words, tears welled up in my eyes. They were not tears for myself and my journey but were for the refugee families I have been working with at JSS. These families will not return to a peaceful home untouched by fire, flood or crime. They will likely never return home as their homes have been ravaged by war. I wondered, with deep admiration, what courage they must have had not only to flee their homeland but also to travel halfway around the world to begin a new life. For them, their travel will change them and their lives more than would ever choose to be changed. I, at that moment, understood my deep privilege of being able to leave and return home. I recognized the freedom I have to choose when and if I travel.

On Monday night Jews will celebrate our freedom as we begin the holiday of Passover. Passover celebrates our ancestors’ journey from persecution to freedom. This year when we open the Haggadah, let us think about the refugees who have joined our community this year and have just recently completed their own Exodus. The Haggadah reminds us that freedom is not simple and does not always taste as sweet as the harosset on the seder plate. The Israelites, we are told, complained to God and Moses as they wandered through the desert and some of them expressed their yearning to return to Egypt. The Israelites’ freedom was paired with responsibility. The people are given 10 commandments and a law code of how to live as a community. So too, the refugee families JSS serves miss their families and their homeland and they struggle in different ways to hold all the responsibilities that come with creating independent lives in their new country.
As we celebrate Passover this week, may we awaken to freedoms we have that we often take for granted. And may we empathize with the complexities of the journey that our new families have made and continue to make as they rebuild their lives.
Hag Pesach Sameach,
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Action Items: 

  • Lift up refugees at your own seder using the 2017 HIAS Haggadah Supplement
  • Click here to learn about what help is needed to help the refugee families already here and the one coming very soon. Or please contact Becca or Paul.
  • US senators and representatives will be in Wisconsin for the two-week spring recess beginning on April 10. We will have a meeting with representatives from Senator Baldwin’s office but have been denied a meeting with Senator Johnson. Please call Senator Johnson to request your own meeting and let him know about your concern and care for refugees while he is home. We are also setting up a meeting with Representative Pocan and contacting House Speaker Ryan to discuss our concerns. Please call your representatives in the next two weeks to let them know you want our country to continue to welcome refugees from all countries.
  • Community Events: JSS leaders will speaking on issues of refugees and immigration at the following upcoming community events:

    Immigration Round Table: April 30, 2017, 2-4 pm, First Congregational UCC, Baraboo

    Sacred Citizenship: The Connection between Politics and Spirituality May 9 5:15-7:30 PM, Holy Wisdom Monastery

    Methodist Federation for Social Action Annual Conference, June 16

Donation needed:
A shopping carts a family can take on the sidewalk/bus for grocery shopping. Please contact Sherie Sondel if you are able to donate such a cart.

Volunteer help needed:
  • We need volunteers to help with office work for our resettlement program. We are a variety of different needs. Contact Paul Borowsky if you can help.
  • We are in the process of planning a really fun fundraiser event. If you want to help with the planning, contact Leora Saposnik, our event chairperson.
Advocate for refugees:
Call your legislators and let them know that you support refugee program and oppose the executive orders banning refugees. Go to  for information of how to advocate.

Volunteer Opportunities: Refugee Resettlement Program

Many people have been asking, “How can I  help?” We’ve put together a list of opportunities that will really have a significant impact on the lives of our new community members. Please take a look and contact Becca or Paul if you can help us.

We have four families in Madison already, and it now looks like there will be more on the way.With the newest executive order on hold, the State Department is actually picking up the pace of moving refugees to the United States. We need your help to be ready.

Transportation Management Volunteer Lead – help schedule rides and lessons about biking, bussing and walking in Madison


Housing Volunteer Lead – help to find affordable, safe apartments with access to public transportation and services


Employment/Education Volunteer Lead – help our families to find appropriate employment and education for long-term success


Please don’t forget that we still need you to advocate for refugees:

Call your legislators and let them know that you support refugee program and oppose the executive orders banning refugees. Go to  for information of how to advocate.

Thank you to everyone working with JSS and the new families and for making them feel welcome.

Working Together for Justice for Refugees and Immigrants – 3/24/17

This week as we prepare for Shabbat, we are thankful that the stay on the executive ban that would have halted the refugee program for at least 120 days remains in effect and that refugees continue to arrive in our country. CEO of HIAS Mark Hetfield words echo our sentiments at JSS,

“While this is a temporary measure, we are pleased that the court has recognized the irreparable harm done to refugees who are prevented from finding safety in this country… As a Jewish organization that serves people of all faiths, we had grave concerns about the government’s attempt to impose a lightly edited Muslim ban. Such religious discrimination has no place in America, as the court has rightly recognized.”

The stay that was issued by the Federal district court in Hawaii last week not only is allowing travel into the U.S. to continue, but also puts a temporary restraining order on lowering of admissions from 110,000 in to 50,000 in this fiscal year. This means that more refugees will be coming during the temporary stay. That is news to celebrate. Here at JSS we will continue to support the refugee families we have welcomed and wait to hear about new families that will be placed with us.
We are continually grateful and amazed by the outpouring of support the community has given JSS as we have launched our newly reconstituted refugee resettlement program. This week’s Torah portion speaks about such generosity. The Israelites are commanded to donate the materials needed to build the Mishkan. They give in such abundance that Moses says, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work.” So he declares, “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary.” (Exodus 36:5-6).
The people brought more than was needed to build the Mishkan so Moses had to stop the giving! There are times at JSS we have had a similar experience. There have been more offers of gifts and help for refugee resettlement than we can use and may overwhelm our new neighbors. What a wonderful blessing of abundance! As we at JSS continue to work with families from all over the world as well as all over Dane Cuonty, we will need your help. Sometimes we will have many requests and other times we will revel in the abundance and have fewer requests. Please know that knowledge of your support continues to sustain the staff and the refugees as they make the difficult transition into life in the United States even when there is not an immediate need. And as always, please consider helping with some of our other programs as well.
I suspect that the people bringing gifts to the Mishkan who were told to stop were probably very frustrated. But despite the frustration God’s presence comes to dwell in the Mishkan at the end of today’s Torah portion. So too, God’s presence dwells in our community as we work together to welcome refugees at this difficult time in our country.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney

What you can do right now:

Donation needed:

A shopping carts a family can take on the sidewalk/bus for grocery shopping. Please contact Sherie Sondel if you are able to donate such a cart.

Volunteer help needed:
  • We need volunteers to help with office work for our resettlement program. We are a variety of different needs. Contact Paul Borowsky if you can help.
  • We are in the process of planning a really fun fundraiser event. If you want to help with the planning, contact Leora Saposnik, our event chairperson.
Advocate for refugees:
Call your legislators and let them know that you support refugee program and oppose the executive orders banning refugees. Go to  for information of how to advocate.
We hope these email updates are helpful. As there isn’t as much information to share every week, we will be sending these updates every other week instead of every week. Please share them with friends and neighbors who would like to support the refugee resettlement program.