by Jessica Schaffer, HIAS Chicago Director
Today, over 65 million people are displaced around the world – of those, more than 25 million are refugees. Various conflicts across the globe, including in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, have created the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since World War II. In the face of this crisis, many countries and states and institutions have closed or threatened to close their doors to refugees, unable or unwilling to provide the critical support necessary to help them rebuild their lives.
As Jews, we know first-hand what it means to be a refugee; to be oppressed, persecuted, and forced to flee our homes while the world turns its back. At the Evian Conference, convened in 1938 to discuss the plight of Jewish refugees, only one country – the Dominican Republic – agreed to open their borders to those fleeing Nazi terror. We’ve walked in the shoes of today’s refugees.
With this history as a foundation and the Jewish values of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming others) guiding us, HIAS Chicago, a program of JCFS and affiliate of HIAS National, has created the Congregational Co-Sponsorship Program. This partnership initiative is an opportunity for synagogues to welcome and support newly arrived refugee families by providing critical social-emotional and financial support, ensuring that the integration into their new community goes smoothly, and establishing a strong pathway to self-sufficiency. A Congregational Welcome Team helps coordinate the synagogue’s cadre of volunteers as they work to:
- Raise the funds needed to help support a refugee family during their first three months in the United States
- Greet the family at the airport upon their arrival
- Help set up the family’s apartment with furniture and other household items
- Tutor youth or adults in English and assist school-aged children with their schoolwork
- Mentor the family by accompanying them to the grocery store, helping them navigate public transport networks, and orienting them to the city Chicago
This year, HIAS Chicago anticipates resettling 60 individuals to the Chicagoland area and we want them to feel the sentiment of: “We’re glad you’re here.” Consider joining with us as we create a Jewish movement of welcoming – one that is inspired by Jewish values, motivated by the history and experiences of Jewish refugees who came before us, and stands in stark contrast to the negative rhetoric around the struggles of refugees that exists today.
In addition to the Congregational Co-Sponsorship Program, synagogues and other institutions and groups can help by preparing Welcome Kits or volunteering for specific activities.