This weekend (Oct. 19-20, 2018) is Nationwide Refugee Shabbat, the brainchild of HIAS. Previously referred to as the Hebrew Immigrant Assist Society, HIAS was based in 1881 to assist Jews escaping Russian pogroms. Since then, it’s labored on behalf of immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced individuals; beginning in the early 2000s, it expanded its imaginative and prescient past Jews, aiding weak individuals in the aftermath of conflicts round the world. Right now, the variety of displaced individuals is the highest it’s been in historical past. Somebody is displaced from their house each two seconds. Youngsters are ripped away from their mother and father at borders.
This yr, HIAS is beginning what it hopes can be a brand new custom: a weekend throughout which People will ponder refugee points. Thus far, greater than 250 Jewish congregations, organizations, and people have signed as much as take part. Why this weekend? Merrill Zack, senior director of group engagement at HIAS, advised me: “We chose it because of this Shabbat’s parsha, Lech Lecha, and its connection to our own people’s wandering in an enduring quest for freedom. But we also chose a time we knew would be critical.”
Let’s tackle the timing first: It dovetails with the federal authorities’s announcement of a brand new “refugee ceiling,” the variety of refugees who will probably be allowed into the United States in a given yr. “When we started planning this, we assumed the ceiling will be low, based on how resettlement numbers were flowing,” Zack stated. “But we did not anticipate that it would be as low as it turned out to be—a historic low.”
For a lot of the 2000s, the annual ceiling was set at 70,000. As the Syrian refugee disaster worsened, President Obama raised the ceiling to 85,000 for 2016 and 110,000 for 2017. However in March 2017, Trump dropped that quantity to 50,000, and simply introduced that it’ll drop additional, to 45,000, the lowest quantity ever set by any president since the Refugee Act turned regulation in 1980. (In apply, for what it’s value, the U.S. has settled far fewer than even that. As of Sept. 17, 2018, the U.S. had solely resettled 20,918 refugees this yr.) Moreover, victims of gang violence and home violence will not qualify for asylum, nor will anybody who has traveled greater than two weeks or handed by means of multiple nation to get to the U.S.
Zack’s colleague Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, HIAS’ schooling director, defined why this week’s parsha is resonant. “Lech Lecha is the first portion where we see one of our ancestors go on a journey,” she advised me. “The experience of having to rebuild a life gave Avraham a unique understanding of being a stranger in a strange place and gives the rest of us insight and empathy. The Jewish people also became unrooted from our homeland, but that’s not the whole story. Rabbi Shai Held says that while our insight into what it means to be a refugee should magnify our understanding of the need to help, even if we had not been refugees we would still have that obligation. We can develop radical empathy without shared experience. But shared experience is powerful.”
One more reason to have this occasion now’s the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. “The midterms are critical for HIAS,” Zack stated. “This is a moment in time when we knew that as a refugee agency, we’d want to be inspiring and encouraging our constituents to raise their voices for refugees.”
You’ll be able to see an inventory of communities collaborating in Nationwide Refugee Shabbat right here, but when your synagogue isn’t on it, or when you’re a solo artist, you possibly can create your personal programming. HIAS supplies a roundup of the way to take motion right here, together with schooling toolkits, volunteer alternatives, rallies, details about turning into a sanctuary congregation, and concepts for issues to do with youngsters to show them about the refugee disaster.
There’s additionally a Nationwide Refugee Shabbat useful resource information to assist body discussions—whether or not at your Shabbat dinner desk or in a gaggle of buddies or together with your youngsters or mother and father—about the disaster. “You could watch Human Flow, the documentary by the artist Ai Weiwei about the refugee experience,” Zack instructed, “Or just watch a segment of it, because it’s long! [It’s 2 hours and 20 minutes; HIAS breaks out specific suggestions for shorter snippets to watch and discussion topics for each.] Or you can check out our resource guide called How to Have Difficult Conversations—sometimes you have to find bravery and root yourself to be able to do that.”
If you wish to do your personal deep dive into Lech Lecha, the parsha through which Abram turns into Abraham (or Avram turns into Avraham, when you’d quite do that in Hebrew), this parsha is the first time we hear Avram described as Avram Ha’Ivri—Avram, the one who crosses over. Earlier than lengthy, the Jewish individuals shall be often known as Ha’Ivrim—the ones who cross over. Why? What does that imply for our collective id? Does your loved ones have its personal “crossing over” story?
HIAS additionally supplies a brand new poetic, refugee-centric model of the conventional Aleinu prayer, written by Meyer. “In their creative social justice work, Lab/Shul uses the idea of “It’s on Us” for Aleinu [actually “upon us”], and I needed to convey that to the bigger group,” Meyer stated. “The Aleinu usually talks about our obligation to praise God, and one of the ways to do that is by helping out our fellow human beings and thinking about what else is upon us when we have a connection to God.”
Aleinu: It was on us.
It was on us from the second our ancestors have been first pressured to go away residence,
charged with reworking their wandering right into a blessing for all individuals.
It has been on us since that wandering turned encoded in our DNA,
from Avram Ha’Ivri, Abram the one who crossed over,
to Ha’Ivrim, the Jewish individuals,
all of us inheriting the legacy of centuries of crossing from one house to a different.
As our individuals turned a refugee individuals,
we took on the sacred duty to see our story as sure up with the tales of all who proceed to wander.
Aleinu: It was on us.
Aleinu: It’s on us.
“Love [the stranger] as you would love yourself,
for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt,” God stated.
To advocate for a world during which the 68 million individuals who flee for his or her lives
can discover safety and a spot to name residence—
To face with those that depart nightmarish conditions solely to undertake nightmarish journeys
in order that they could train their authorized proper to seek out safety in these United States—
To cry out for the households who’re separated from each other,
detained with out an finish in sight,
infants calling for folks who might by no means see them once more—
To talk up when these in energy shut the doorways of our nation to victims of violence and persecution—To remain outraged from a spot of affection quite than hate,
from a spot of welcome moderately than exclusion–
These, too, are our obligations with out measure.
Aleinu: It’s on us.
We all know the value of creating some other selection,
of demurring from the holy process of remodeling our wandering into blessing.
As we bow and bend to the Supply of Freedom,
with visions of a repaired world in our minds
and the dedication to satisfy these visions on our tongues and at our fingertips—
Aleinu: It can all the time be on us to keep in mind that there isn’t a us and there’s no them, there are solely God’s youngsters,
every deserving of blessings of liberty and justice.
You may, maybe, take a look at how conventional Jewish texts handle refugee points. What number of occasions do the Torah and Talmud supply variants of, “You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”? “Maybe it’s mentioned so many times because it’s hard,” Zack provided. “It’s not easy to help people who aren’t like you, who may have perspectives different from yours. But that doesn’t mean we don’t rise to the challenge.”
You possibly can open up a dialog with individuals who say, “Oh, our congregation isn’t political” or “Helping refugees means letting dangerous people into the country,” explaining that a) serving to refugees isn’t political; it’s an edict in the Torah. And in our personal lifetimes, it was a bipartisan concern for many years; it’s solely just lately been “political.” And b) as Zack famous, “The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has incredible amounts of vetting; the most vulnerable people in the world are vetted more than any other population that comes to the U.S. More than students, more than tourists, more than any other group.” She’s right; you may supply precise knowledge and testimony by these doing the vetting.
With your loved ones, you might take heed to music by Jewish refugee composers (HIAS provides information about Samuel Adler, Israel Alter, Bela Bartok, Tania Leon, Darius Milhaud, and Ruth Schonthal, however me, I’d go together with Irving Berlin), or you may discover HIAS’ dialogue guides for teenagers in grades 5-9. In any case, over half the world’s refugees are underneath the age of 18. Older youngsters might already concentrate on the hundreds of youngsters who have been separated from their mother and father at the Mexican border and of the many mother and father who have been deported with out their youngsters. Our youngsters are likely to know extra about present occasions than we expect.
With youthful youngsters, you may take a look at HIAS’ youngsters’s guide Rosie and Warda and the Huge Tent, however there are any variety of fantastic current youngsters’s books about the refugee expertise. (For little youngsters, I most fervently advocate The Journey by Italian artist Francesca Sanna—it’s beautiful—and for teenagers in grades Four-Eight, I’d get Refugee by Alan Gratz, a gripping web page turner that educates painlessly.) Zack famous, “Good books about refugees don’t terrify children. They help broaden their understanding about the world and engage in their surroundings with different lenses.”
Lastly, it’s very important to have hope. “It’s an auspicious time to be doing this work,” Meyer stated. “We just had the High Holidays, a time of deep introspection, and Sukkot, which is about dwelling outside and being reminded of the impermanence of shelter and of our own fragility, So to rise up now, to stand with refugees around the world for whom this is their daily reality, is very powerful.”
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