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.

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