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

Staff and Volunteers Waiting for New Family at the Airport

(Talmud, Taanit 29a)

This past Sunday and Monday began the Jewish month of Adar, the month in which we celebrate Purim. There are many joyous Jewish holidays but this is the only that affects the attitude of the entire month. When we hear about the anti-immigrant crackdowns that the federal government is pursuing and await the signing of a revised refugee ban it can be hard to feel that we are entering an auspicious month of joy.

As we continue to search for ways to advocate for keeping our country open and welcoming, we must find moments of celebration in our work. This week at JSS we had plenty of joy when we welcomed a new refugee family to Madison from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The family of four women, two sisters who are here with two grown daughters, arrived on Tuesday. Their arrival, despite the long travel and extra night in Newark, NJ, was described by our refugee staff as joyous. The women are very happy to be here.

They spent their first hours in Madison enjoying lunch with JSS staff members, the family who is hosting them, and a Rwandan man who provided a home cooked meal. The man who spoke their native language offered a prayer over the meal that brought the new family to tears.

In that moment of sharing food and tears of relief for finding safety and a new home, joy did indeed increase.  As it says in the Book of Esther, “The month that was reversed for them from grief to joy”  (Book of Esther 9:22). As you continue to support JSS’s refugee and immigration programs may you also find moments of that are transformed from grief to joy.

See our work in the press: Wisconsin Jewish ChronicleThe CapTimes
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney

p.s. If you have a medium size raincoat for a man or a woman, we could use them. (One of each). Please let Rihab know at

Staff and Volunteers Waiting for New Family at the Airport

A big thank you to Hadassah’s Collectors Corner for graciously providing warm and comfortable clothes for our new refugee family. They were so incredibly helpful. Todah rabah!
We received a generous donation from 5th Element Coffee for the work JSS is doing with refugees and immigrants.
¡Muchas gracias!

Jewish Social Services Continues to Welcome the Immigrant – 2/24/17

This week brought us more devastating policy news from the Federal Government. This week the targets were not refugees but undocumented immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security unveiled sweeping new guidelines that will almost certainly increase detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants. While these guidelines for deportation priorities explicitly excluded immigrants protected under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (known as DACA), for the first time a young man protected by DACA was put into detention. These orders have caused a wave of fear to grip immigrant communities throughout Madison and the United States.

JSS’s immigration legal services team works here in Madison and surrounding areas. We help people apply for DACA protection, permanent residency status, citizenship and asylum. This work is not new to JSS but has heightened importance in this political climate. Each day our team meets and talks with clients who are afraid. Historically, individuals with green cards have felt safe in the U.S. The green card serves as proof that its holder, a lawful permanent resident, has been officially granted immigration benefits, including permission to reside and take employment in the United States. Now record numbers of green card holders are applying for citizenship so they can feel safe in the U.S. and feel safe leaving the country to visit family. The JSS team works with them.

The JSS team is also working with young people wanting DACA protection. For example, a family came to JSS this week who have been here eighteen years and have three children, two of whom were born here and are citizens.They brought their eldest child to the U.S. as a toddler. Now a young adult, JSS was able to help him to receive DACA protection. He can work legally and obtained a driver’s license. But applying for DACA carries significant risk to the family as the U.S. government now has all the family’s information. The parents fear deportation and are scared for their American born young children who have never been to Mexico and do not read or write in Spanish. The team discussed a safety plan and guardianship options for the children.

These immigrant members of our community need us to raise our voices to combat the policies that cause fear and hate.  You can read a call to action from a Madison Latino leader

And you can go to the website of Voces de la Frontera to get information about how you can take action.

Jewish Social Services Says Thank You to the Madison Muslim Community

On Monday, February 20, the following letter was sent to the media:
We, the Madison Muslim Community and the Madinah Community Center, stand with Jewish Community and condemn in the strongest possible terms the bomb threats made against several Jewish Community Centers across United States, including one in Wisconsin.
We call upon the law enforcement officers for a prompt apprehension of the perpetrator(s) and bring them to justice.
Our community will continue to stand with all other minorities who are subject to hate.  According to Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the United States rose for the second straight year in 2016.
We all need to work together to replace acts of hatred with acts of kindness.
Masood Akhtar, Advisor to the Madison Muslim Community and the Madinah Community Center

Refugee Resettlement Update:

This week at JSS the refugee resettlement team and volunteers continue to support the refugee families. Cultural orientation began this week to help these new arrivals learn more about their new country. All the adults are in English classes. Two of them are looking for employment and 4 others are adjusting to their jobs.  We are also gearing up to welcome a new family from the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of February.

We are in need of three adult rain coats (one Men’s medium, one Men’s small and one Women’s medium). Please let Rihab know if you have one to donate.

As our new resettlement program takes root and begins to run more smoothly, we are saddened by the fact that President Trump’s executive ban has radically reduced the number of refugees who will be allowed in the country this year. JSS will most likely not get the 50 refugees we planned to resettle this year because of this reduction. HIAS has filed a legal challenge to the reduction in the number of refugees. To read about their work go to HIAS Files Preliminary Injunction Challenging Reduction of Refugee Admissions to 50,000.

We urge you to take action. If you have not done so, please Sign THIS PETITION. And to find out more about the actions you can take please go to

Engaging in advocacy or even following the national news can be exhausting and disheartening these days. Each of us needs to find ways to care for ourselves as we do this work. Shabbat is a sacred time in which we get a taste of a more perfect world, of a messianic time. Shabbat is not the time to create that world but to experience the beauty and holiness of our existence. We can then emerge from Shabbat ready to do the work to roll up our sleeves and do our part to make that messianic vision a reality.

May your Shabbat be a time of peace and rejuvenation.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer and Dawn Berney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Dawn Berney

Refugee Resettlement Update – 2/10/17

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

Refugee Resettlement Update – 2/3/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom.

Very Important Refugee Update: January 27, 2017

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Renée Bauer and Dawn Berney

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