Recommitment to honor refugees reflects Jewish values
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Recommitment to honor refugees reflects Jewish values

National Refugee Shabbat is March 20-21

Laptop, Computer, Desktop PC, Human Hand, Office / soft focus picture / Vintage concept
Laptop, Computer, Desktop PC, Human Hand, Office / soft focus picture / Vintage concept

This year, on the Shabbat of March 20-21, Congregation Dor Hadash is participating in the Second National Refugee Shabbat. We have encouraged all congregations in the area to also participate and are gratified that several are doing so. We also invite individuals to join the cause.

The National Refugee Shabbat is organized by HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). HIAS describes it as “a moment for congregations, organizations, and individuals around the country to dedicate a Shabbat experience to refugees and asylum seekers.” This will be the second National Refugee Shabbat. The first was held Oct. 19-20, 2018.

All the reasons for participating last time still hold — and there are even more reasons to do so this year — including support for Jewish values, support for HIAS and standing up for our right as Jews to worship in peace.

Chapter 19 of Leviticus states: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Anyone who has attended even one Seder understands Jews’ deep connection to those escaping from slavery, war, or abuse because of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, the defining characteristics of refugees. Many American Jews came here themselves as refugees or descended from people who would meet today’s definition of refugee.

The social action committee of Dor Hadash sees our mission as advocating for more humane policies toward refugees and asylum seekers. That need has only increased in the past year as the Trump administration has continued to reduce sharply the number of refugees admitted to the United States, has carried out an inhumane policy of family separation and has refused to let asylum seekers enter the country while waiting months for hearings, a practice recently held invalid by a federal appeals court.

You may feel that your congregation is not the place to talk about politics. We would argue that these are questions of tzedek/justice, not of partisan politics. Christie Balka’s essay, posted on, discusses “Political Activism as a Form of Prayer.” She writes: “Activism requires us to make a profound statement of faith. It reflects both our highest ideals and our belief that transformation is, in fact, possible. By acting on this belief, we make it more so.”

Participating in the National Refugee Shabbat is also a way of connecting to HIAS, which has a long history of aiding Jews leaving Russia and then the Soviet Union and now works globally, through direct service and advocacy, to support refugees of all faiths based upon Jewish values. Many congregations have their own way of supporting tikkun olam, so supporters can find ways to work with HIAS that fit their own and their congregations’ values and priorities. The organization’s Welcome Campaign includes hundreds of congregations, and its website provides materials and ideas about how to organize a service around the issue of refugees.

We also feel strongly the need to stand up to the haters and to assert our right to worship in peace and safety. In doing so, we uphold core Jewish and American values and rights. We cannot protect ourselves from violence by digging a hole and hiding in it. It is in that spirit that, after our congregation was attacked on Oct. 27, 2018 at the Tree of Life building, we recommitted ourselves to our work supporting refugees and our membership in HIAS’ Welcome Campaign. It is why we see participating in the National Refugee Shabbat as so important now.

We realize that not all congregations will choose to participate and not all who may want to support this effort belong to a congregation, and so we are opening our own service to all who wish to attend. Please join us on Friday, March 20 for Erev Shabbat services at 7:30 p.m. at Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Avenue. PJC

Carolyn Ban is the former chair and Eve Wider is the current chair of the Social Action Committee of Congregation Dor Hadash.

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