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Because We Were Strangers

Because We Were Strangers

Congregation B’nai Israel developed policy and congregational consensus to provide direct assistance to refugee families and provide physical shelter to someone facing immediate deportation. The congregation partnered with state, local, and national organizations across lines of difference to strengthen our efforts and broaden our reach. They also engaged in local and State level advocacy work to address the systemic problems surrounding immigration and refugees.

Community Contact Information

Congregation B’nai Israel

Sacramento, CA



  • B’nai Israel, in partnership with various community agencies, will become actively involved in the lives of refugees arriving in the USA by providing direct services to families in need.
  • B’nai Israel will become a sanctuary congregation for immigrants facing immediate deportation.
  • B’nai Israel will be a moral voice speaking out for vulnerable communities in Sacramento and Ca, and stand in solidarity with community partners to increase advocacy efforts at the state and local level to address immigration and refugee assistance head-on
  • B’nai Israel will educate our congregational members on the Jewish values underlying these efforts, to inspire members to act for justice through direct service or advocacy.


  • Sacramento ACT (PICO Affiliate)
  • Opening Doors
  • Reform CA
  • HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)
  • KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)
  • Latino Jewish Forums



Board of Trustees votes to participate in Reform CA, endorses comprehensive immigration reform, and advocates for the Trust Act (an immigrant protection measure). Deepens relationship with Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT), our local PICO affiliate.

October 2015

B’nai Israel members are part of the founding group that helps start the Latino Jewish Forum, to build bridges between cultures and support immigrant issues

December 2015-January 2016

Congregation creates a Refugee Assistance Committee and partners with Opening Doors, a local refugee absorption group to provide direct service to refugees arriving in Sacramento. Signed on with HIAS as a congregation that supports immigrants and refugees.

Spring 2016

A couple seeking political asylum contacts CBI and is welcomed into the congregation; congregants provide direct assistance for food, clothing, and housing.

April 2016

Latino Jewish Forum hosts community event attended by over 100 Jewish, Latino and other ethnic groups, to learn together about Latino and Jewish immigrant histories.

November 2016-February 2017

Discussions begin at the leadership level about how to address the growing attacks on refugees, immigrants, and Muslims. Conversations expand to include discussions with ACT about becoming a sanctuary congregation.

Congregants increase their involvement in Opening Doors to provide direct assistance to refugee families by meeting families at the airport, providing furniture, and driving people to medical and other. They also work with the Sacramento NCJW section to provide care packages to the families.

January 2017

President and Rabbi call a town hall meeting to discuss the possibility of becoming a sanctuary congregation. The meeting, attended by over 200 people, involves text study, and a discussion of practical and legal considerations. Immediately afterwards, congregant attorneys form a Sanctuary Legal Committee to research and advise the Board on the legal considerations.

February 2017

Board unanimously voted to become a sanctuary congregation and provide housing to an individual or family facing immediate deportation.

February 2017-Present

Congregation continues to prepare to provide sanctuary housing by developing crisis response protocols with ACT and mobilizing our congregants for assistance and action. We are a resource for other congregations considering offering sanctuary and have participated in rallies, press conferences and media interviews to call attention to this issue. We are also involved in statewide advocacy efforts to protect undocumented residents and refugee communities.

Latino Jewish Forum hosts workshop for undocumented Immigrant families on ‘Know Your Rights”. The group also meets with the County School Superintendent (another B’nai Congregant) to get a commitment to reach out to school districts to become safe zones for students. The group is working with child protective services to find alternatives to foster care for children whose parents are deported.


  • Strengthened relationships with local community groups (both Jewish and non-Jewish)
  • Prepared to house a refugee family at a moment’s notice
  • Provided direct assistance to over 50 local refugees in the community through direct service support
  • Created several educational programs that frame immigration from a Jewish lens, increased congregational knowledge of the plight of refugees and undocumented people
  • Lifted up local, state and national policy reform
  • Members engaged in direct advocacy actions including attending a town hall with the head of ICE, where one of our member’s testimony, who is a Holocaust survivor went viral.
  • Members have attended Board of Supervisors meetings, written letters, made congressional site visits during the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience and will be doing state legislative visits soon.