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Spreading Stories of Welcome on World Refugee Day

Spreading Stories of Welcome on World Refugee Day

Earlier this month on June 20, we joined with groups around the world in observing World Refugee Day, a day to shed light on the plight of refugees. During the Shabbat before World Refugee Day we read the second parashah in the book of Numbers, Parashat Naso. This parashah continues the census from the previous parashah, B’midbar and reminds us of the dangers and benefits of counting.

So much of the refugee crisis is discussed in numbers: number of refugees and people displaced worldwide, numbers entering the United States versus entering Europe, amount of funding for refugee programs and much more. Although the numbers are important to understand the scope of the crisis, this World Refugee Day we challenged ourselves and our community to go beyond the numbers and actively welcome to the millions of people facing this global crisis.

The URJ and WRJ joined with more than 50 faith groups in the Refugees Welcome Campaign, which hosted over 100events across the country. The goal of the campaign was to foster dialogue among diverse cultures and faiths and promote welcome and integration of refugees into local communities.

I was lucky to attend an event at Temple Rodef Shalom of Falls Church, Virginia. The event provided an opportunity for members of the Northern Virginia Muslim and Jewish communities to meet, get to know and welcome recently arrived Syrian refugee families. It was extremely powerful to hear their stories of escaping the civil war in Syria and the heartbreaking stories of family members left behind or killed along the journey. Although they shared their struggles and desires to return home to a peaceful environment, it was encouraging to hear about the impact each act of welcome has had since they arrived. With so much hateful rhetoric spreading throughout the media, it is inspiring to experience and read about these welcoming events and acts of love and compassion, as faith communities are actively opening their arms to welcome the stranger and love their neighbor.

As refugees arrive into an atmosphere filled with hate and intolerance, we must continue to get to know them and invite them into our communities. As Rabbi Pesner highlighted in his Forward op-ed on World Refugee Day, “In times of tragedy, we cannot let fear cloud our values. We must speak out against hateful rhetoric that demonizes the other.” And we can speak out and demonstrate our true American and Jewish values by spreading these stories of compassion and welcome.

Although World Refugee Day has passed, we cannot let this crisis slip into the shadows. With more than 60 million people displaced worldwide, a number that continues to grow, this crisis requires an even greater response. The United States has committed to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of fiscal year 2016.  But eight months into the fiscal year, the United States has resettled fewer than 3,000 Syrian refugees. Take action and urge your Members of Congress and President Obama to continue to welcome refugees in order to meet our commitment for 2016. Additionally, download this toolkit to learn about how your congregation can respond to this crisis and check out 5 ways you can welcome refugees in your community.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/United Nations Development Program

Rachel Landman is the assistant director of 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, MA, where she ran the inaugural summer Israel program, which focused on exploring Israel through the lens of science and technology. She holds a degree in biology from Hamilton College and served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She is an alumna of URJ Crane Lake Camp and grew up at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue in Brooklyn, NY. 

Rachel Landman

Published: 6/30/2016