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Fain Award Winner - MIKLAT - Spaces of Refuge: Congregation Sinai Engages the New Sanctuary Movement

MIKLAT - Spaces of Refuge:  Congregation Sinai Engages the New Sanctuary Movement 

The program is designed to acquaint congregants with the issues of Milwaukee's growing population of undocumented migrants, primarily from Mexico and Central America,. and empower them to advocate for individuals and the families of individuals facing deportation and family separation. 

Community Contact Information

Congregation Sinai

Fox Point, Wisconsin



  • Raise congregational consciousness of the issues facing migrants
  • Mobilize congregants to become active in related programs and similar efforts outside the congregation
  • Build ongoing alliances between Congregation Sinai and other community organizations, e.g. the interfaith New Sanctuary Movement, Voces de la Frontera, JCRC, and the Milwaukee Archdiocese


This program was created to meet the needs of immigrant families and learn about and addressing the legal and societal issues surrounding immigration. One of the aims of the New Sanctuary Movement is to address the isolation of new and particularly undocumented migrants by connecting them to diverse religious organizations. For the New Sanctuary Movement, Sinai represents a unique and new constituency.


The congregation began by forming relationships with coalition members and activist groups in the immigration community including Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee Jewish Community Relations Council, and The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese. After Rabbi David Cohen delivered a High Holy Day sermon on immigration, the Social Action Committee began addressing questions of immigration explicitly. 

Project Implementation:

  • December 2009: Congregation Sinai hosts a “Social Action Shabbat” on contemporary immigration issues – speaker from Voces de la Frontera to introduce us to current immigration issues
  • Sept. 2010: Rabbi David Cohen delivers High Holy Day sermon on immigration
  • 2011-12: Social Action Committee begins addressing questions of immigration; a congregational contingent joins the Immigrant Rights March on May Day; Rabbi Cohen is invited to speak at the podium and address the crowd prior to the march.
  • April 2012: Sinai hosts an interfaith Immigrant Freefom Seder emphasizing themes of displacement, refuge, and redemption. Rabbi Cohen and congregation member Ramona Tenorio create a trilingual Haggadah in English, Hebrew and Spanish. In preparation for the Seder, Sinai families travel to office of Voces de la Frontera, to work with Hispanic/Latino families, making small painted Mexican folkart-style frogs for the tables at the Seder (frogs are a symbol both in Mexico and in the seder).
  • March, 2013: A deportation Prayer Vigil is held at Sinai. This monthly event includes prayers for those contending with deportation. This event marked the first time the vigil had ever been held in a Jewish house of worship. After the service, Latino youth activists met with teens from Sinai’s teen education program to discuss their work.
  • April 2014: Congregants begin accompanying immigrants to court in Chicago, providing rides and emotional support
  • May, 2014: Congregation Sinai becomes first Jewish congregation to officially join the New Sanctuary Movement network.
  • June, 2014: Rabbi Cohen and representatives from the Social Action committee attend a protest at the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency office building downtown to protest recent wave of deportations.
  • March 2015 – Our Second Immigrant Freedom Seder. Planned with a larger consortium of partners, including, the Milwaukee’s Jewish Community’s Relations Council, the Milwaukee Catholic Diocese, Voces de la Frontera, and the New Sanctuary Movement


Congregation Sinai's involvement in immigration issues has become one of the ways people identify Sinai in the community. The Vigil Service and Seder were well attended and those who participated have asked for more, which is why this Spring Congregation Sinai will be hosting  a second Immigrant Seder with a larger community coalition, as well as a second Vigil Service. The initiative has provided ways for congregants to engage in the important issues surrounding immigration in a very hands on way. The initiative has also helped build connections between the Jewish and Latino/Hispanic community.