In the face of a legal tussle over a presidential decree on immigration, the desire to keep America’s doors open to immigrants is playing out in synagogues across Greater Boston, including Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, Newton’s Temple Emanuel and Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester.
The long-hoped-for reunification of a Ukrainian Jewish family expecting to soon resettle in the Boston area came to an abrupt halt two weeks ago with President Donald Trump’s order that temporarily banned immigrants from seven problematic countries. The January 27 order also halted the nation’s refugee program for 120 days and barred all Syrian refugees indefinitely.
The family was among scores of others whose lives were suddenly thrust in disarray following the executive order that has dominated news headlines and resulted in legal challenges in federal court, including one by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, joined by Attorney General Maura Healey, and sparked demonstrations at airports at Logan Airport and across the country.
The legal landscape has shifted daily and last weekend the executive order was temporarily halted following a federal court ruling in Washington State. As a result, the State Department reinstated tens of thousands of visas it had revoked and lawful visa holders who had been affected by the ban began arriving at Logan and other airports. At the same time, the Trump administration moved to have the ruling overturned.
Against this backdrop of twists and turns, the immigration ban is shining a light on the role Jewish organizations here and across the country are playing in supporting immigrants and refugees resettling in the US. Throughout our area, leaders and members of synagogues have mobilized to support refugees with many opposing Trump’s executive order.
The extended Jewish Ukrainian family of ten is hoping to join a brother, long established in the area, according to Marc Jacobs, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services of Metrowest, a Framingham-based non-profit that provides services, including immigration assistance, within the Jewish community and to the general community.
Refugee families that had travel scheduled through February 17 are supposed to be re-booked by the State Department, according to Jacobs. “If this is not overturned by the court of appeals, JFS is expecting one family with young children soon. Naturally, we hope it is more than that,” he added.
JFS has spearheaded a multi-faith coalition of organizations to support the resettlement of 15 Syrian refugee families; five have already arrived, including one family that arrived the week before the executive order and is being supported by Temple Emanuel in Newton.
More than thirty Boston-area Jewish religious, civic, philanthropic and human service organizations signed on to a statement issued by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, a statement that called the immigrant ban unjust. “The Torah warns against the wronging of a stranger in thirty-six places,” the statement asserted.
“We must not close our doors to those around the world,” it concluded. The JCRC is planning a rally in Boston for Sunday morning at 11.
At Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, congregants were moved by the plight of Syrian refugees and have helped support two refugee families, one from Syria and one from Iraq, living in Gloucester, according to Rabbi Steven Lewis.There’s a lot of interest in the Jewish community because of historical memory, Rabbi Lewis told the Journal. But he believes the congregation’s involvement is best accomplished through interfaith efforts and human rights commissions.
Rabbi Lewis is among members of the Cape Ann Clergy Association who signed a letter opposing the Trump administration’s executive order that was expected to be published this week in the local Gloucester newspaper, he told the Journal.
He’s seen a tremendous interest among synagogue members in helping refugees and there was an overwhelming response to an informational program featuring Marc Jacobs that is being rescheduled to do a snow cancellation.
Congregants at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead are assisting a Haitian family that is seeking asylum. Their support, in partnership with two local churches through the interfaith Refugee Immigration Ministry, has provided funds for housing, clothing, and medical needs, according to Rabbi David Meyer, who gave a High Holidays sermon on the subject. The Haitian family has since come to religious services at the synagogue. Meyer is struck by the magnitude of the needs.
“The amount of suffering worldwide is so overwhelming. Our effort is not going to solve the problem, but it helps. It puts the face of a mother and young daughter on the suffering; it becomes more humanized,” Meyer explained.
Congregants at Temple Emanuel in Newton were moved to help Syrian refugees beginning in September, 2015 after the heart-wrenching death of Aylan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as his family tried to reach Europe, fleeing the bloodshed of the Syrian civil war, according to Rabbi Michelle Robinson. A news photograph of the young boy’s body gripped the world’s attention.
“As a Jewish person, you can’t help but remember our ancestors were turned away from the shores of so many countries. You can’t look at that and not feel an echo of our history, too,” Rabbi Robinson told the Journal in a phone conversation.
“There was so much desire to help,” among congregants, she observed. Working with JFS of Metrowest, synagogue members agreed to support two Syrian refugee families; while they waited, they helped support a Jewish refugee family from Iran, including raising funds for their son to attend summer camp.
Awaiting the Syrian family, a group of some 150 volunteers arranged for housing and other needs. Rabbi Robinson was among those at Logan airport to greet the parents and three children who are now resettled in a town west of Boston.
“It was powerful. It was really beautiful to be able to be a small part of a new beginning for a family. It’s a real privilege,” Rabbi Robinson said.
Now, congregants are engaged with the family on a daily basis, assisting with transportation, winter clothing, transitions to school and job searches for the parents. Rabbi Robinson has seen the beginning of warm relationships being forged.