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.