We are deeply moved by the resilience and clarity of the members of Pittsburgh’s Dor Hadash for their commitment to participating in HIAS’s National Refugee Shabbat again this year. We urge every Reconstructionist community to stand with Dor Hadash and HIAS this coming March by participating in this powerful program. In this way, we act on our values and gain strength from each other to create the world in which we want to live.
With blessings and appreciation,
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President
Seth Rosen, Board Chair
At Congregation Dor Hadash in Pittsburgh, we are participating again this year in the National Refugee Shabbat, organized by HIAS. The dates are March 20-21, 2020. We were, of course, appalled that the perpetrator of the Oct. 27, 2018 massacre ranted about our support of HIAS and participation in the National Refugee Shabbat. And we suffered grievously from the attack. Nevertheless, participating is important for all of us.
We encourage all congregations to join HIAS’s Welcome Campaign and to hold their own National Refugee Shabbat services. All the reasons for participating last time still hold, and there are even more reasons to do so this year, including support for Jewish values, support for HIAS and standing up for our right as Jews to worship in peace.
Chapter 19 of Leviticus states, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Anyone who has sat through a Passover seder understands our deep connection to those escaping from slavery, war or abuse because of race, religion, nationality or political opinion, which are the defining characteristics of refugees. Many American Jews came themselves as refugees or descended from people who would meet today’s definition of a refugee. Two years ago, our Social Action Committee at Dor Hadash decided to focus on helping refugees and immigrants through direct assistance via our local Jewish Family and Community Services.
But we also saw our mission as advocating for more humane policies towards refugees and asylum seekers, so we joined with HIAS. That need has only increased in the past year as the administration in Washington, D.C., has continued to reduce sharply the number of refugees admitted, has carried out an inhumane policy of family separation and has refused to let asylum-seekers enter the country while making them wait months for hearings. You may feel that your congregation is not the place to talk about “politics.” We would argue that these are questions of social policy, not of partisan politics. Christie Balka’s essay (on the Reconstructing Judaism website) “Political Activism as a Form of Prayer” says “activism requires us to make a profound statement of faith. It reflects both our highest ideals and our belief that transformation is, in fact, possible. By acting on this belief, we make it more so.”
Participating in the National Refugee Shabbat is also a way of connecting to HIAS through its Welcome Campaign, which provides materials and ideas about how to organize a service around the issue of refugees. HIAS (formerly the Hebrew International Aid Society) has a long history of aiding Jews leaving Russia and then the Soviet Union, and now works globally to support refugees of all faiths, based upon Jewish values. Their work encompasses advocacy, including protecting the rights of refugees in the United States and around the world, and direct service to refugees through 16 offices worldwide. Many congregations have their own way of supporting tikkun olam, so supporters can find ways to work with them that fit their own and their congregations’ values and priorities.
Finally, we need to stand up to the haters and assert our right to worship in peace and safety. In doing so, we uphold core Jewish and American values and rights. We cannot protect ourselves from violence by digging a hole and hiding in it. It is in that spirit that, after the attack, we recommitted ourselves to our work supporting refugees and our membership as part of HIAS’s Welcome Campaign. It is why we see participating in the National Refugee Shabbat as so important now. In sum, we need to stand together to help refugees, to support HIAS and to support our right to worship.
National Refugee Shabbat resources: www.hias.org/national-refugee-shabbat
HIAS’s Welcome Campaign resources: www.hias.org/get-involved/hias-welcome-campaign
Chair, Social Action Committee
Dor Hadash, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Former Chair, Social Action Committee
Dor Hadash, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania