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Refugee Task Force

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

Austin, TX

http://www.bethshalomaustin.org

Goals

  • Advocate for refugees
  • Raise awareness about the crisis through educational programming
  • Actively welcome refugees into the community through service and philanthropic opportunities

Partnerships

  • HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)
  • Refugee Services of Texas
  • Interfaith Action of Central Texas
  • GirlForward

Implementation

January 2017

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.

February 2017

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.

March 2017

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.

April 2017

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.

May 2017

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.

June 2017-

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.

Results

  • School supplies were raised for 160 refugee kids for summer learning programs. This included book bags, water bottles, pencils, glue, scissors, pencil cases, notebooks, markers, post-it notes, musical instruments, lap-sized white erase boards, coloring pencils, and special “period-kids” for refugee girls who are going/have gone through puberty that included hand sanitizer, pads, and tampons.
  • Raised awareness about local refugee aid programs in their community and encouraged community involvement, resulting in approximately 30 members of RTF becoming active volunteers providing direct service through refugee organizations in Austin.
  • Created a multi-generational movement at our temple, with RTF members ranging from b’nai mitzvah students to young adults and retirees.
  • RTF members organized a Welcome Team, which gathered enough furniture and supplies to fully furnish a home for a newly resettled family of five that arrived on April 19th. They will continue to support and welcome this family over the next three months.
  • Members of the community participated in the legislative process by writing letters to representatives and going to the Capitol to speak about the refugee crisis to legislators. This resulted in 80 postcards written to state and federal representatives, and, through the combined efforts of those attending the Texas Refugee Advocacy Day, almost 100 legislators were asked to continue supporting or start supporting refugee resettlement in Texas.
  • Engaged Jews (and non-Jews) from all over Austin, with folks from all parts of the Austin community donating money and donation drive items, attending our events, joining us for direct-service volunteering opportunities, and joining our mailing lists.
  • The first (but hopefully not the last!) Jewish congregation in Austin, TX to sign onto HIAS’ Welcome Campaign.
  • Prepared and served lunch to 120 refugees.
  • Members of RTF have signed up to volunteer during the summer as camp staff for local camps that support recently resettled refugee children.