Last year at Kehilla’s Passover Seder, Reverend Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI) spoke about the thousands of undocumented minors and young families fleeing poverty and violence in their own countries and arriving in the U.S. seeking protection and safety. The Nueva Esperanza project of IM4HI was established by faith groups and other organizations to respond to the enormous needs and challenges that these minors and families face when they first arrive here. Nueva Esperanza organizes and trains accompaniment teams to be matched with newly arrived families to help provide practical and emotional support as they begin to get settled in their new home.
After hearing Reverend Lee speak, several Kehilla members were inspired to organize a team, and two more Kehilla teams formed in the following months. Below are reports from the three teams.
Report from Kehilla Nueva Esperanza Accompaniment Team (NEAT) #1, submitted by Carol Rothman
Kehilla Team #1, known as the Paz (peace) team, has been working with two teenagers and their families since June 2015. Both families are from Guatemala and are Mam, an indigenous people with a long history of oppression. The two youth assigned to our team primarily speak Mam, with Spanish as their second language, and have now both learned some English as their third language. We primarily communicate in Spanish.
Over the course of the past year our team has assisted the youth and their families with school and health care enrollment, utilizing food banks, food stamps, and provided many opportunities for them to earn money working in our gardens and homes and those of our neighbors, friends, and fellow Kehilla Synagogue members. Both teens have worked to help make the Kehilla yard a drought-tolerant garden space. Our team also worked with the school of one young woman to set up ongoing family case management services. We have also supported other family members with obtaining needed legal assistance regarding their immigration status. Recently, new young family members have made the dangerous journey unaccompanied to Oakland, and we are assisting them with some of their needs as well. Both of our teens have said that they are glad to live in Oakland now where they can be outside of their houses without the level of danger they experienced in Guatemala.
In addition to practical/material support, we have acted as extended family in joining the families to celebrate holidays and birthdays. We have also provided experiences of parties in parks and first time excursions to the redwoods and to see the ocean. Team member Ellen has assisted them in sketching their experiences in nature. It is lovely to feel connected with these warm, loving young people and their families and to share their joy when experiencing nature, music and friendship.
Report from Kehilla Nueva Esperanza Accompaniment Team #2, submitted by Julie Litwin
Our second Kehilla team was established in December 2015. We attended a NEAT training and were assigned a family. The family had recently arrived from Honduras after a grueling two-month journey. According to a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “Honduras is among the poorest and most violent countries in Latin America,” and the hometown of this particular family “is ranked as the city with the highest homicide rate in the world for the last four years” (Mogelson 96). The city is almost entirely controlled by gangs.
The family we were paired with is comprised of a mom and her 16, 14, 12 and 6-year-old daughters. They arrived in Oakland and were fortunately able to move in with extended family, albeit in very crowded living quarters. We initially tried to be useful to the family in ways such as helping the girls with enrollment in their respective schools and showing them how to get there by bus. We connected the family with the Alameda County Food Bank, went with them to sign up for the health care benefits they were eligible for, helped them to procure legal services for their asylum case, accompanied them to an initial court hearing, introduced them to the resources at their local library and gathered donations of clothing and bedding for them.
We attended a street fair in the Fruitvale area with the family, went with them to a NEAT dinner and had a birthday party for two of the girls at the carousel at Tilden Park. We helped the mom to find some work, including the opportunity to clean the Kehilla kitchen before our Passover Seder. She was able to learn a bit about the holiday and sample some of our Passover dishes as a bonus. Currently, we are looking into activities that the girls can participate in over the summer and ESL classes for the mom. The family’s asylum case will be heard soon. We are VERY hopeful that the hearing will go well. It has been an honor to get to know this family and to experience their resilience and courage, despite the huge challenges in their lives.
Breaking news: The family won their asylum case on June 22nd! It was a very emotional occasion. We are all thrilled!
Reference: Mogelson Luke. “Purgatory.” New York Times Magazine. December 13, 2015.
Report from Kehilla Nueva Esperanza Accompaniment Team #3, submitted by Karen Rachels
Team 3 began meeting in March 2016 in preparation for supporting a family. In May, six of our seven-person team attended the monthly vigil at the West Contra Costa County Detention Center in Richmond. The vigil takes place on Saturdays at a time when families of detainees are visiting their loved ones. The mother of our family spoke at the vigil about her situation, and our team members spent some time with her after the vigil. She is from El Salvador and has five children, ages 13, 9, 7, 3, and 18 months. The seven-year-old is newly diagnosed with cancer and has been in the hospital for several long stints recently. The mother’s partner was deported, which resulted in the loss of the home they shared with the children. The mother and the children need permanent housing. They are currently staying in an Oakland shelter for homeless immigrant families. Members of the team have supported the family by visiting the seven-year-old in the hospital, reading to her in English and Spanish, providing crayons and paper, and bringing food and clothing for the mother and some of the other children. We are just beginning to build relationships with each member of the family, which will help provide consistent support over time. The team is planning to help find camps for the children over the summer, transportation for various family purposes, and to assist with other needs, such as finding counseling support.
This update is a joint effort of the Kehilla Economic Justice Committee (EJC), the three Kehilla accompaniment teams and the newly formed Kehilla Immigration Committee. Please see the accompanying announcement about ways Kehilla members can help.
The EJC has long been working on issues related to immigration. At our last retreat we again identified immigration as a key concern for the committee. We are currently approaching issues in terms of a three-prong strategy: direct service; solidarity/showing up; and transformational organizing. Three members of the EJC are on the third accompaniment team providing direct service to our family. The EJC also works on many other issues, housing being the other major priority. In addition to direct service, we are also engaged with support/solidarity such as attending the monthly vigil and transformational organizing by working on immigrant rights issues in conjunction with the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition (EBIIC) and Oakland Community Organizations. (OCO). If you are interested in the EJC, please contact Mandy Bratt at email@example.com or 510-798-4865.
The Kehilla Immigration Committee
The Kehilla Immigration Committee is for those who are involved in, hope to be involved in, or care deeply about any aspect of immigration-related work or refugee support. The purpose of the committee is to provide mutual support and to facilitate communication among ourselves and with all of Kehilla. We have created two email lists, one for those who would like to participate in the committee and one for those who would like to share or receive information about immigration or refugee support events and actions. We do not anticipate a high volume of emails on either of these lists. If you would like to be on one or both of these lists, or if you would like more information about the committee or the accompaniment teams, please contact Julie Litwin and Frances Kreimer at ImmigrationCommitteeChairs@kehillasynagogue.org
Ways to Help the Immigrant Families Kehilla Teams Are Accompanying
You can support Kehilla’s accompaniment teams through a donation to Kehilla marked NEAT in the memo line.