Welcoming a Refugee Family

August 31, 2018 in Rabbi Greg Harris

Throughout the Torah, the Israelites are reminded “you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9)  Thirty-six times in the Torah and throughout our rituals, we are reminded of our ancestors’ hardships in Egypt.  These reminders are prompts for us to extend kindness and welcome others in need.

In close partnership with our friends at Bethesda United Methodist Church and Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, we are excited to be able to fulfill this special mitzvah.  In two weeks, we will welcome a refugee family into our communities.

These three houses of worship have come together to sponsor a refugee family with the guidance of Lutheran Social Services which is the designated resettlement organization locally.  With support from HIAS and others, we have been waiting for over a year for this moment.

While I am not allowed to share details of the family over social media until their arrival, I can share that this family has been living in a refugee camp for a decade waiting for the chance to come to America.  In all that time, their country of origin was too dangerous to return to and thus remained refugees with the hope of arriving in a safer land.  Their time has finally come.

Over the past year, we have been preparing.  Robust committees have been formed to assist with transportation, employment, finance, housing, and food and clothing needs.  These committees are made up of members of all three congregations.  The chairs of the Refugee Committee are Sharon Fine and Michael Kieval.  They have been supported by Beth El Board member Sheryl Miller, VP for Tikkun Olam.  These committees have put in countless hours planning and preparing.

There are ways for you to help too.  This Sunday, Sept. 2, we will be collecting school supplies for this family at the Back-to-Shul BBQ. In addition, we will hold a clothing drive specifically for the family on Mitzvah Day on October 28. In the coming months, look for announcements about other ways to help support this family.

For so many reasons, this is an exciting moment for our community.  Doing it in partnership with the churches only adds to the sacred work underway.  In our morning blessings, we recite:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, זוֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe who straightens the bent.

Through our combined efforts, we will assist this family to leave the circumstances they are fleeing and stand upright in the safety and blessings of America.

As Emma Lazarus’ famous poem ‘The New Colossus’ claims on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Together, we will embrace this challenge and this family.  I invite you to get involved.