The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Refugee Task Force
Although 7,000 refugees resettled in Texas last year — more than any other state in the country — the governor of Texas chose to withdraw from the federal refugee-resettlement program. The responsibility of organizing the resettlement of these refugees has since fallen into the hands of local non-profits and community groups. In the wake of increasingly hostile attitudes towards refugees in the United States, and guided by the commandment to welcome the strangers in our midst, the Refugee Task Force is a grassroots community group at Temple Beth Shalom that partners with local refugee aid organizations to ensure our state continues to support and welcome refugees.
Community Contact Information
Temple Beth Shalom
In response to executive orders that specifically targeted refugees, a panel discussion was organized to discuss the refugee crisis and what our Temple could do about it as a community. Panelists included refugee service providers from Austin (Interfaith Action of Central Texas - iACT), resettlement agencies that serve the entire state of Texas (Refugee Services of Texas - RST), a Jewish international refugee aid program (HIAS), and refugees who were resettled in Austin. Almost 100 congregation and local community members were in attendance.
After the panel, Temple Beth Shalom hosted two brain-storming sessions (which collectively attracted approximately 40 people) to see why and how the community wanted to move forward in helping refugees. This input and passion from the congregation is what led to the formation of the Refugee Task Force (RTF).
Many members of the congregation became volunteers at local refugee aid programs and provided direct service needs, such as English language tutoring, to refugees.
About 20 RTF members acted as Peace Observers during Muslim Capitol Day, using their bodies as non-violent shields and enforcers of peace and love to protect Muslim speakers and attendees from the harassment and violence of folks protesting the presence of Muslims at the Texas Capitol.
By the end of January, almost 100 people signed up for the RTF mailing list and Facebook Group.
20 RTF members prepared food and served over 120 refugees through a refugee luncheon program organized by iACT.
Congregation members organized and hosted a vigil during the Day of Jewish Action for Refugees (an international HIAS event) that was attended and led by TBS congregants, local community members, and members of other Jewish synagogues across Austin. The event was featured by the HIAS organization on their blog.
Rabbi Cohen did a blessing for refugees in honor of HIAS’ Day of Jewish Action for Refugees during t’filah for our Sunday School (which has approximately 375 students).
RTF members held a postcard writing party, resulting in 80 postcards sent to local, state, and federal officials indicating our hopes that they would continue to support or begin to support policies that helped refugees.
TBS sets up a booth that includes information and educational materials from local and international refugee aid agencies.
RTF members contacted iACT and GirlForward to ask about summer needs. As a result of those conversations, those members started a summer school supplies donation drive in order to gather necessary school materials for 160 Austin refugee children for their summer learning programs.
Congregation members helped put together mishloach manot filled with school supplies during the Temple’s Purim celebration.
RST came and did presentations with our 2nd graders and 6th grade “Mitzvah Track” course about refugees and refugee resettlement.
Temple Beth Shalom officially joined the HIAS Welcome Campaign, solidifying the community’s dedication to welcoming and supporting refugees.
The Religious School added children’s books about refugees to our library and added those books to school curriculum.
The RTF Welcome Team, in partnership with RST, began helping a family of five from Afghanistan resettle here in Austin. Welcome Teams prepare an apartment, greet the family at the airport, and assist with activities such as school registration and grocery shopping throughout the first three months of a family’s life here in the US.
Our congregational 2nd night Passover seder had a refugee theme, with readings and activities geared towards raising awareness about the refugee crisis and our responsibilities as a Jewish community.
RTF members, including one of our rabbis, attended a “Texas Day of Advocacy for Refugees” at the Capitol in downtown Austin and spoke to state representatives about the need to support refugees here in Austin.
B’nai mitzvah students will attend trainings and become volunteers at iLearn, iACTs 7-week summer program for refugee kids. This will become the students’ mitzvah projects.
A congregational dinner with the refugee family sponsored by our Temple’s Welcome Team is being planned. The dinner will happen at Temple and will include key leaders from our congregation (such as our Board President and Rabbis) as well as RTF members.