July 2020

July 3, 2020


by Rabbi Renee Bauer, JSS Community Chaplain

Without the fireworks, community parades and celebrations 4th of July this year will feel quiet and, to many of us, disappointing. It is one more thing the pandemic is taking from us. 

We can turn this disappointment into an opportunity to reflect on the history and meaning of Independence Day and how the country can live up to the ideals of the founding fathers. The 4th of July is day of revelry and national pride for many Americans. However, it can feel very different for Americans whose forbearers were not included in the grand vision of the equality laid forth in the Declaration of Independence, most notably Native Americans and African-Americans. On July 4, 1776 when the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages” slavery was legal and would remain so for nearly 90 more years. Frederick Douglass’s spoke to the challenge of being Black on the 4th of July in his famous 1852 speech, What to a Slave is a 4th of July? where he said, “This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of G-d….I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view.“  www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/speeches-african-american-history/1852-frederick-douglass-what-slave-fourth-july/.

The challenges of this holiday are not historical. Racism still pervades our country’s institutions and psyche. And we should recognize that we are living through a moment in which the immigration system is being dismantled. Our nation was founded by people who left their home country because of religious persecution and to find a better life. However, today immigration to this country is being brought to a halt. Although some of the slowdown in immigration was caused by COVID-19, much of it is the result of the Administration’s long pursued anti-immigrant agenda.  

Three major changes happening right now in the US immigration system:

  • Banning many non-immigrant visas

The president signed a proclamation in April, and then extended and expanded it in June. It bans many who seek lawful permanent residence to reunite with family in the United States, as well as those with employment sponsorships, and applicants for diversity visas. www.cliniclegal.org/press-releases/administration-escalates-its-covid-19-exploitation-extended-and-expanded-immigration?ct=t(AgencyUpdate_062320)

  • Ending the Asylum System

For three years, the administration has chipped away at the asylum system and the rights of those in need of protection. Even worse, on June 15, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security jointly proposed a series of changes of to the asylum system that would effectively end asylum once and for all. www.hias.org/take-action-new-proposed-asylum-regulations

  • Cutting Federal Processing Agency

If Congress does not give the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) emergency funding, it may furlough ¾ of its staff on August 3rd. USCIS processes all visas, work permits and naturalizations. This would be catastrophic for an already backed up immigration system. Much of the financial trouble is due to policy changes that significantly increase workloads related to individual cases. www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-so-set-on-harassing-immigrants-that-his-immigration-agency-needs-a-bailout/2020/06/11/52c2ae06-ac1b-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html

Radical changes to the United States immigration system take place with little fanfare and administratively rather than legislatively. While COVID-19, racism and police brutality dominate the news, nails are being placed in the coffin our nation’s immigration system. Anti-immigrant policies and black racism are not separate issues. They both undermine the inherent value of each human being and are both deeply rooted in our nation’s racial history. www.nytimes.com/2020/01/17/opinion/sunday/michelle-alexander-new-jim-crow.html

When looking at these issues from a Jewish lens, they are intricately connected and central to our tradition. As Rabbi Michael Strassfeld (www.michaelstrassfeld.com/new-page) recently wrote, “The most repeated commandment in the Torah is to not oppress the stranger [i.e. the immigrant]. No one thinks that this suggests that it is okay to oppress people who are not strangers. The Torah singles out those who are vulnerable or on the margins of society. Racism is about those we think are “different” from us—those we have turned into strangers.”

On this 4th of July as we miss our fireworks celebrations and our community gathering, I urge you to take action to save our nation’s identity as a country of immigrants.

Take Action

  1. To save the asylum system: www.hias.org/take-action-new-proposed-asylum-regulations
  2. To oppose the expanded immigration Ban: www.mailchi.mp/cliniclegal/action-alert-1025789?e=dfa253a708

I conclude with a prayer appropriate for this 4th of July written by Michelle Alexander, civil rights lawyer, legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, “The centuries-long struggle to birth a truly inclusive, egalitarian democracy — a nation in which every voice and every life truly matters — did not begin with us, and it will not end with us. The struggle is as old as the nation itself and the birth process has been painful, to say the least. My greatest hope and prayer is that we will serve as faithful midwives in our lifetimes and do what we can to make America, finally, what it must become.”

Shabbat Shalom and Happy 4th of July.

July 10, 2020

From Pincus Goldstein to Paul Gill – My Grandfather’s Legacy
By Joni Pico

The SS Berengaria disembarked fifteen-year-old Pincus Goldstein and his two little sisters in New York on February 19, 1923. After immigration officials welcomed them to America, the siblings made their way to their father’s crowded Brooklyn tenement. Pincus’ sense of responsibility pushed him to fend for himself. He found a job and then he made his way.

Pincus’ legacy of integrity was built upon experience. By way of example, he persevered through the Blizzard of ’25. A born salesman, he sold bagels from a pushcart, something that requires strength in deepening snow. He was doomed, though, by an upturned cart that splayed bagels everywhere, which cost him his job. We learn from such things. At a young age, Pincus discovered that he could handle hardship, as well as human foibles.

Five years passed as Pincus studied English, worked in a shoe factory and changed his name to Paul. He also met two special people. The first was his wife, Miss Feldman, and the second his benefactor, Mr. Jules Winkleman, who launched Paul’s lifelong occupation in ladies’ shoes. Life took a turn during the Great Depression. Mr. Winkleman found Paul a good job selling shoes in Chicago, and advised him that his last name should be less “Jewish” for success in the Midwest. Goldstein became Gill.

By the time I came along, Grandpa Paul had started a ladies’ shoe salon of his own, Paul Gill & Sons. He was proud of his business, and even prouder of his family, especially the grandchildren. A great thing about Grandpa Paul was that he made time for all the grandchildren. He took us to the playground or to the beach, or for a long walk, every week. Friends and neighbors used to kid him. “The children sure behave for you, Paul.” We adored him.

Most of us have family stories that we tell over and again. The better ones often anchor us, or spring to mind during celebrations, or when the going gets rough. Coke Time is my personal favorite. A brief version goes like this: Grandpa Paul loved taking me and my cousins for a soda on Sundays. No sooner did he say “Coke Time” than we kids single file lined up from oldest to youngest, and moved as a little parade to our neighborhood refreshment stand for our drinks. Us older two milled about like adults, each week as exciting as the week before.

There are also memories of lessons learned. One of mine occurred at work with my grandpa the day after Christmas 1972. A woman burdened by bags demanded her money back for a pair of scuffed and lusterless shoes. “But these shoes are worn,” insisted fifteen-year-old me, which angered the woman who started to scream. Grandpa Paul, who’d been elsewhere in the store, came to the rescue: He determined the problem, took the shoes and excused himself for a minute. He instructed me to refund the money when he returned. “Joni,” he said later on, “the customer is always right.”

Come 1972, the accomplishment of equal-rights legislation during the 1960s had not dramatically improved the quality of all Chicagoans’ lives. At the time, people also claimed that the long and painful history of police brutality in the city remained unchecked. Grandpa Paul was a sympathetic ally of those keeping up the fight for equality in the seventies. He understood that women who returned worn shoes had pressing needs. He was kind and generous, and probably would have given that woman a refund even if she had purchased those shoes at another store.

My grandpa came to America almost one hundred years ago and lived in this country for fifty years. He passed away leaving our family with countless memories, all building blocks of his amazing legacy. Full of integrity and good humor, Grandpa Paul was truly a mensch. My grandpa comes to mind during these trying times. He lived through a lot including two world wars; his support of Israel for twenty-five years was a testament of hope.

It’s a different century now, but Grandpa Paul’s legacy was partly built on his responses to issues that we recognize as relevant today. As a child he survived the 1918 flu pandemic, as a young immigrant he built a life, and as a grown man he endorsed matters of social justice. What guidance can be yielded from my grandpa’s life and legacy? You still have a responsibility to live your best life. How do you do that? You take reasonable risks, you accept setbacks, you learn from experience, you take the time to do things right, and you take care of your family.

Almost all of us have special stories about our lives. If you are interested in exploring creative ways to share them, please contact me at 608-424-4568 or joni@jssmadison.org.

July 17, 2020

Why I Volunteer

By Erica Serlin, JSS volunteer

Thanks for providing the opportunity to share my experiences welcoming Jewish Social Services (JSS) sponsored refugee families and advocating for refugee and asylee rights. I initially connected with JSS and Open Doors for Refugees (ODFR) in 2017 as part of Temple Beth El’s commitment to become a Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) Brit Olam Congregation. I have served since then as one of the co-chairs or our congregation’s Immigrant Rights Action Team to promote the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and other undocumented immigrants. Initially, I served on the ODFR Welcoming Committee, assembling baskets of objects chosen to help newly arrived refugee families feel truly welcomed in their new home country. I also bought groceries for several families, so their new homes would be stocked with a week’s worth of familiar foods. I certainly enjoyed visiting ethnic grocery stores and learning about foods that were new to me!

In August of 2018, I attended an excellent advocacy training that was co-sponsored by HIAS and JSS which was followed by several efforts to protest this Administration’s drastic and cruel reduction in the admission ceiling for refugees, especially from Muslim countries. These efforts included a meeting with Representative Pocan and his staff. Other activities included helping organize a showing of “This Is Home”, a powerful film about the challenges faced by three Syrian refugee families resettled in Baltimore with a panel discussion following the film. I was also involved in planning and implementing a Refugee Shabbat at TBE in November, 2018 and another in March, 2019 where we learned a great deal about the global refugee crisis and potential advocacy action steps. In addition, Carrie Fox-Kline from JSS provided an informative and inspiring presentation to our congregation in December, 2019 regarding her trip to the border and her work at JSS to provide legal assistance and advocacy for refugees, asylees, and other migrants.

Saving the best for last, I have provided homework help and tutoring to the children in two families-a Syrian family that has since moved and a family from the Congo. It has been a delight to watch these kids learn English and make America their home. One highlight was seeing one of the kids participating with her new friends at last summer’s Camp Shalom’s picnic and skit night while obviously enjoying her pizza and Snow Cone! Another was watching another youngster from the same family proudly recite her middle school graduation speech which we helped her practice! I also really appreciated getting to know and work with other dedicated volunteers who have been passionately committed to welcoming resettled families.

Why do I find this work so gratifying? Of course because welcoming refugees and asylees is congruent with our Jewish values instructing us to pursue social justice and to treat the stranger in our midst with justice and compassion. In addition, I believe that now more than ever, we need to work to change the narrative in the U.S. from one that views immigrants and refugees as dangerous “takers” who weaken our country to one that recognizes them to be productive neighbors and community members who contribute significantly to our economy, society, and culture, Finally, it’s fun! As a retired psychologist, I miss working directly with kids and families and love the opportunity to develop relationships with people from different cultures and hopefully, to help make our community their home.

July 24, 2020

Sacred Stories

By Rabbi Renee Bauer, JSS Community Chaplain

This Shabbat we begin reading the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy or Devarim, which is a retelling of the Israelites’ story. Unlike the first four books which are written in the voice of an unnamed narrator, the Book of Deuteronomy is written from Moses’s voice. The Israelites stand on the banks of the Jordan River looking into the Promised Land knowing that Moses will not lead them into the land. His recounting of their collective history is a farewell address to the people. He speaks of the challenges and lessons learned while wandering in the dessert for forty years. He remembers the deaths of siblings, personal vulnerabilities and communal betrayal. He affirms God’s presence in their formation as a people. Moses spends his final days with the people telling the story of their journey together and imparting a vision for the future.

We can ask ourselves why the Torah ends with this personal retelling of the communal past. Why not just have the original, anonymously told story that is chronicled in the first 4 books? Torah is teaching us that taking the time to remember and recount our life stories is an important part of our journey. We learn that personal story telling is a sacred act. It is a gift our elders can give to us as we prepare to live in a world without them.

Storytelling is a uniquely human endeavor that has many functions. It can heal us by helping to work through difficult events in our past and finding new ways of understanding them. Telling stories can build a sense of belonging to a community by creating a shared narrative. Reviewing and retelling the stories of our lives provides meaning as we age and reach the end of our lives. Repeated stories within our families root us in knowing who we are in a rapidly changing world.

JSS is putting these messages from Parashat Devarim into action by starting a new storytelling program. We will be helping our clients and community members reflect on their past, tell their stories and record their history in an effort to glean lessons for future generations and to provide the storytellers with a sense of grounding during this difficult and isolating historical moment. If you are interested in being part of this program, contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Paul Borowsky at paul@jssmadison.org.

This Shabbat, on which we read the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy, is known as Shabbat Hazon, literally the Shabbat of Vision. Through our telling of personal stories, we can gain vision about our own lives and help others envision the future more clearly. I hope you will join in our new program and share your sacred stories with us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Renée Bauer

July 31, 2020

Talk with Rachael & Joni: 2 generations of social work

Rachael Wortzel grew up in Madison and is the mother of one wonderful son. She is a program assistant for JSS and brings a lot of energy to the team. Rachael is also studying social work at UW Madison and will graduate in spring of 2021. Joni Pico is originally from Chicago, but came to JSS from Alaska where she lived for over 30 years. Joni has been a social worker for 35 years and came to Wisconsin with her daughter who is studying music at the Mead Witter School of Music. Rachael and Joni have a good time working together and talking about their professional development. What follows is a transcript of one of their recent conversations:

Joni: I really enjoy working with you, Rachael, but I sure do miss seeing you in the office … even if we do see each other on Zoom almost every day. 

Rachael: I miss you, too. Did I tell you that my social work internship starts next month?

Joni: You did, and it sounds so exciting and it makes me wonder exactly when you’ll graduate with your Masters of Social Work. It’s next summer, right? 

Rachael: Yes, one more year and I’m sure looking forward to it.

Joni: How did you become interested in social work education anyhow?

Rachael: When I was 21 years old I was studying to earn my Bachelor’s degree in psychology and I took the Meyers Briggs Inventory and it showed my highest career match was social work. At that time, I didn’t want to be a social worker because I thought social work was only a band aid for bigger social problems (which I was wrong about). Instead I spent a decade working at jobs that I didn’t find fulfilling and considering careers that never held my interest. After years of frustration, I decided it was time for graduate school. And that’s when I found myself applying to the School of Social Work. How about you, Joni?

Joni: I didn’t go straight into social work either, but my reason was different from yours. My grandmother wanted me to be a CPA like my father and my cousin and my sister. I tried being an accounting major in college but switched to sociology. Then, I tried accounting again in grad school but couldn’t stand it and dropped out. That’s when I applied to the School of Social Work and that’s when my grandmother started telling everybody her granddaughter would win the Nobel Peace Prize one day! It’s been thirty-five years and though I’ve collected my share of accolades I never got the big one!

Rachael: Your career isn’t over yet! I was thinking we could talk today about the value of social work students learning in the field from experienced social workers.

Joni: Really, Rachael? I think I’m the one who’s learning a lot from you. You’re just so well matched to social work as a career. In our meetings at JSS you listen to colleagues with so much respect and never need to fill space with your own opinions and perspective. Your timing with feedback is great, which is huge when you advocate for our clients. You’re teaching me that there’s always room for improvement in communication, especially listening, and what could be more important? I interrupt people too much!

Rachael: Thank you, Joni, that means a lot to me coming from an experienced social worker like you. I love studying social work because it isn’t about status, or ego, or pointing fingers, or who does something the best. It is about collaboration, problem solving, ethics, justice, kindness, and love. I also love studying social work because I have met some of the most amazing women who do outstanding work simply because they care about others. What is special to you about social work? 

Joni: Growing up in Chicago, I was very interested in Jane Addams’ work. A century ago, she was a peace activist and an equal rights activist who fought for the right of women to vote. All of this in addition to her devotion to the settlement of immigrants. I’d love to visit the museum named after her on Halsted St. in Chicago. I think of her influence when JSS resettlement staff talk about our clients’ strides and achievements, and of how her legacy helped me see many of the ways in which social workers can support people. Today’s issues are as relevant as they were in Jane Addams’ day. Social workers still work on altering dysfunctional systems and on breaking down barriers for people of diverse backgrounds and abilities. We also engage in helping people learn how to help themselves, whether the results of their efforts are clearly observable or not as would be the case in mental health. All of this is special to me.

Rachael: I didn’t know there was a museum named after her, I’d like to go there with you one day. I learned all about Jane Addams in my first semester of grad school. She was revolutionary in her time. And that’s just what I think we need in social services; a new and radical approach. As I look to my future career, I think there’s a lot of places we can do better. For example, it seems that we educated White people tend to think we know what is best for “disadvantaged” groups of people.

Joni: White people were the cause of a lot of trouble in Alaska.

Rachael: How’s that?

Joni: When I began working with Alaska Native people, about thirty years ago, I met many elders who had survived the boarding schools where White people sent them far from their families, villages and way of life. Native elders told me about the White Man stripping them of their languages and traditions and even beating them when He, White Man felt like it. Horrific stuff not unlike the stories we hear of people seeking asylum in the United States today. 

Rachael: When that part of history is told by White people, they were trying to “save” the Native people from their own “barbaric” culture. I don’t doubt that many of those White people thought they were helping the Native people by “teaching” them the European way of life. We know these ideas to be false now, but the damage had already been done. Too many times this type of situation has occurred. That is why listening is so important. We must listen to people who don’t often get to be heard. 

Joni: Take it from an older social worker, Rachael, you have a gift for listening. In fact, you even told me you believe that the power of words and stories is greater than we tend to admit. 

Rachael: I did say that, didn’t I? That reminds me of a quote that came to my mind yesterday and I’m not sure if it’s an official quote of someone, or if I made it up. “If you want to be wise, you must spend more time listening than talking”. It struck me because often I think people are more concerned with being heard than making others feel heard. I think it is a part of social workers’ jobs to listen.

Joni: I learned exactly that from Alaska Native people. When I first began working in Alaska, I noticed people only gradually shared their reasons for seeking support from a counselor like me. First, they told me about where they were from and who their family members were, and about their beliefs on many things. This often took five or six weeks of one hour appointments. Sharing their backgrounds which were really their stories put their reasons for going to counseling into the broader context of their lives. This takes time!

Rachael: I see what you mean. Yes, it does. How do we balance our own knowledge with the idea that people are experts of their own experience?

Joni: That’s an excellent question. Bear with me here, okay? And then, after sharing their stories with me, people usually asked me all kinds of questions about myself! And here is a kernel of truth about me and my career … I learned how to strike a balance in terms of self-disclosure with people that contradicted what I’d learned in graduate school about professional boundaries. You see, some of what we learn in school and think we know can be faulty or outdated. 

Rachael: Is this part of how you were “accepted into the culture in meaningful ways” with your clients in Alaska?

Joni: Yes. I learned “to let myself be known” in ways that were appropriate to another culture. Nobody’s interests would have been served if I expected indigenous people to conform to my White ways. People wanted me to know that they also cared about me. It is the way. One human being to another. 

Rachael: I really enjoy hearing about your time in Alaska. It sounds like the career you had working with Alaska Native people was a unique and powerful experience.

Joni: It definitively was, Rachael, thank you. You know, I agree with what you said earlier about our needing a new and radical approach in social services. Something we need to cultivate more of is respect for cultural and racial diversity. We can’t really help people without it, especially if equality is one of their goals.

Rachael: Working toward positive change with systemic issues like the ones you just mentioned is what I’m interested in doing in my future career as a social worker. I believe people need to be empowered in their communities.

Joni: I agree with you again and wonder what your hopes are for employment after graduation. I hope your internship this year brings your job search into wonderful focus for you. 

Rachael: Yes, me too. I’m also glad that I’ll be working at JSS for at least another year. 

Joni: For some reason, I thought you were leaving at the end of the summer and was so happy when you explained that you’re keeping your job here. This is a great place to work. The people work hard here.

Rachael: I completely agree! Everybody brings something special to the whole and we work together well.

Joni:  I wish I knew more about the history of JSS. I’ve heard that the people who started this agency were deeply committed to creating a Jewish organization that would really help people in this area. Several months ago, a JSS founder asked me how Judaism impacted my work in Alaska, and just the other day you asked the same question. A short version of my answer is that Jewish values and ethics helped prepare me for my work. It made me a natural fit.

Rachael: I understand what you mean because so many of us Jews are taught to be of service to the world and not only our own people. I think it’s important that the doors at JSS are open to everybody.

Joni: JSS has shown deep compassion for people during this pandemic. At one of our Zoom meetings, Chris (JSS Associate Director) said our staff is working harder than ever to help people and Dawn (JSS Executive Director) agreed with her. It’s more than providing our services in the usual way. Every person here is doing their best to help our clients get through this difficult time that has no end in sight. 

Rachael: Absolutely. I think we as an agency try to stay informed about the latest COVID-19 updates and then we continue to find new ways to support our clients, like making calls to see how they are doing and ask if there is anything else that we can do for them.

Joni: I think people really appreciate our efforts … It’s been so lovely chatting with you about things. As I said at the beginning of our conversation, it’s nice working with you and learning a little more about your interest in social work. There are many wonderful paths to working with people. Although social work is only one of them, it’s great sharing our long journeys to social work education with each other right now.

Rachael: And our shared commitment to social justice and being culturally sensitive to others. 

Joni: And about our needing some new approaches in social services. I liked your quote about gaining wisdom through listening. You bring this to the table. Listening helps people who are the experts of their experience to be heard. It is one way of showing your respect for them. If there were ever a time for deepening our listening, it’s now.

Thank you for reading our conversation! If you want to learn more about the field of social work or the services that JSS provides, please call Rachael or Joni at 608-442-4081.