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Paying It Forward in Durham, NC…For We Were Once Strangers

Paying It Forward in Durham, NC…For We Were Once Strangers

Disturbing photos of refugees risking their lives for freedom seen on a daily basis, Judea Reform Congregation’s Rabbi’s High Holy Days call to action and a young congregant’s Bar Mitzvah project sparked the engagement of several adult members who came together to support refuges.

Community Contact Information

Judea Reform Congregation

Durham, NC



  • Learn about the global and local refugee situation
  • Engage the community members in advocacy and action
  • Support local resettlement efforts through partnerships
  • Foster a community of experienced refugee resettlement volunteers to take bigger actions.


  • CWS (Church World Service)
  • HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)
  • SONAM Chorus (Singers of New and Ancient Music)


Fall 2015

Seed Planted: Congregants are moved by Rabbi’s High Holy Days message and a well-publicized Bar Mitzvah project related to refugee advocacy with HIAS

Spring 2016

First Sprout: HIAS email sparks 5 congregants to email Rabbi re: joining HIAS Welcome Campaign. Judea Reform Congregation (JRC) becomes 100th congregation to join.

June 2016

First meeting of Refugee Resettlement Group with invited speaker from local Church World Service (CWS) resettlement office

August 2016

Congregants donate backpacks filled with school supplies for 21 recently arrived refugee elementary, middle, and high school students and almost $700 in gift cards for families to purchase additional needs.

October 2016

Congregation furnishes an apartment for an incoming refugee family from Democratic Republic of Congo. Shared story on this blog post: Not your Bubbe’s Chicken Soup

November 2016

Coordinate successful joint winter outerwear drive with the Lerner Jewish Community Day School, Community Midrasha and the congregation. They donated over 70 heavy coats to newly arrived refugees and immigrants through a partnership with CWS and even greater number of lighter weight items are added to a drive to help victims of Hurricane Matthew in the eastern part of the state.

Over 30 congregants participate in a volunteer orientation with CWS

Team begins a monthly e-newsletter for congregants to promote engagement and share successes.

December 2016

Surpassed goal with congregants by donating $2275 to purchase 65 monthly bus passes for local public transit system. This was a high priority for the resettlement partner, as newly arrived refugees use public transit to seek employment and get to work and appointments.

January 2017

Yom Tzedek: Religious School students make welcome cards for 80 newly-arrived refugees

Rabbi Larry Bach speaks at a rally supporting refugees and immigrants on Friday, January 27, hours before President Trump issued an executive order effectively slamming the door.

A number of congregants participate in protest of Muslim ban at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

February 2017

Congregation partnered with with a local chorus (SONAM supports local non-profits by signing beautiful music) led by our music director Dr. Allan Friedman, for a winter benefit concert which both raised awareness and over $5300 for CWS employment program. The concert opened with words of thanks from a CWS staff person and program beneficiary from Afghanistan.

March 2017 - Mitzvah Day

Congregants participated in many service and social justice projects. Several members shared their stories in “Welcome Selfies.”

On the eve of the second Executive Order closing the door to refugees (now stayed by federal courts), Judea Reform wrote and mailed over 40 postcards to our Senators, Representatives and the President, sharing our support for welcoming refugees.

A number of JRC congregants were among the 1,500+ residents who participated in Durham’s Congregations Associations and Neighborhood’s (Durham CAN) City of Inclusion Action that same afternoon.

April 2017

Sixteen refugees from four countries (Burma, Chad, China, and Syria) joined Judea Reform’s Second Night Congregational Passover Seder.

A B’nai Mitzvah student is currently sponsoring an umbrella drive seeking 50 new umbrellas for recently arrived refugees.

Initiated the JRC Volunteer Community, a regular monthly meeting of congregants who are engaged in volunteering in direct service with refugees to build community, share experiences including successes and challenges, and to position ourselves to assess when we have a critical mass of experienced volunteers and whether we are ready to successfully take on a larger congregational engagement and commitment to refugee resettlement.

Third grade religious school is leading a drive for "Buckets of Summer Fun" filled with summer activities for refugee children (sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, soap bubbles, other games).


  • All newly arrived refugee students who are CWS-Durham clients received a backpack filled with grade-appropriate school supplies before school started;
  • A family of four from the DRC arrived to a comfortably furnished apartment, new fall and winter outerwear appropriate for the NC Winter; a stocked kitchen and a warm meal.
  • 70 refugees and immigrants had winter outerwear before cold weather hit.
  • 35 months of public transportation were provided to CWS refugee clients in Durham
  • CWS had funding to meet its match for Americorps funding for job training and placement (last year, this funding contributed to 319 job placements for refugee clients)
  • NC Senators, Representatives, and President Trump heard from congregants who support welcoming refugees.
  • Rabbi is seen as an inspirational speaker and leader on refugee issues in the community.
  • 250 congregants sat with 16 refugees during the Passover Seder, making the story of Exodus that much more real.
  • Three students completed refugee resettlement actions for their B’nai Mitzvah Service Projects.
  • A small group of congregants is volunteering regularly in direct service with refugees and the resettlement agencies in thecommunity.
  • The congregation is aware of the global refugee crisis and eager to engage.
  • Judea Reform Congregation is seen as a leader on refugee resettlement in the community.