A Celebration of Janice Beers

By Steven H. Morrison
Executive Director Emeritus

Perhaps the greatest joy and most professionally fulfilling work during the years I served as Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Madison and Jewish Social Services was leading our Jewish community’s efforts to resettle refugees from the former Soviet Union starting in 1989. Janice Beers began volunteering for us that year as part of that program.

Subsequently, JSS hired her as the Resettlement Secretary in 1990 for a temporary summer position. After two years of temporary work, the position became permanent. Janice strove to become fluent in Russian and learn the professional skills of social services, both of which she mastered. By 1993, Janice became the director of the refugee program.  Over the years, she resettled over 350 refugees. The program boasted 100% employment for all working-age refugees!

Janice was one of the very first Russian medical interpreters to provide services to the community and the first to complete the “Bridging the Gap” training.

In the early 2000’s, as the refugee resettlement program was slowly ending, Janice recognized the need for low-cost immigration legal services in our community.  She independently researched and discovered the opportunity for JSS to become a United States Board of Immigration Appeals recognized agency and for herself to become a BIA Accredited Representative. In 2005, Janice took the initiative to turn that dream into a reality.  For the past 12 years, JSS was the first BIA Recognized agency and Janice the first  BIA Accredited Representative and for a decade the only agency and representative in Dane County.

In 2008, Janice led the way for JSS to become CLINIC’s (Catholic Immigration Network, Inc.) first non-Catholic subscriber agency.  In 2009, she was a founding member of the Community Immigration Law Center (CILC) and  served on the Board for four years.  In 2012, Janice became a member of the Madison Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Leadership Committee and continues to be a member of the local Immigration  Advocate Coalition. In addition to providing direct services to clients, she provides community education presentations on a monthly basis.  In 2013, Janice wrote a Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan that was awarded by CLINIC.  In 2015, she secured funding from Dane County for JSS’ Immigration Program, which provides both legal and social services to clients. This was the first significant funding JSS had ever received from the County. The county funds helped JSS expand its program by hiring a bilingual assistant. That funding is now in its third year.

Over the twenty-seven years she has been part of Jewish Social Services of Madison (including a two-year stint as the JSS Volunteer Coordinator), Janice has touched the lives of some 1,800 immigrants from over 80 countries as well as the hundreds of volunteers and others throughout the community with whom she worked.

Jewish teaching could not be more specific with respect to the treatment of immigrant: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [Leviticus 19:33-34], a principle that is referenced or repeated thirty-five times in Torah, the most of any mitzvah.

Janice Beers has been the living embodiment of this historic value and as she now moves to the Catholic Multicultural Center to continue her life-saving and enhancing work on behalf of immigrants, I invite all in our community to join with me in extending our appreciation, admiration, and affection.

 

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 www.rcusa.org/advocate-now  for information of how to advocate.

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 www.rcusa.org/advocate-now  for information of how to advocate.
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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.