In March of this year a group of Kehilla members working on immigration issues called a meeting to connect people in our community who are involved in all kinds of work and service with immigrants and refugees, and the laws and policies affecting them.
Here are some of the ways people who came to the meeting are engaged:
- Working with Nueva Esperanza to form accompaniment teams who provide direct support to newly arrived Central American immigrants;
- Supporting LGBT refugees through the Jewish Family and Community Services of the East Bay LGBT refugee resettlement program ;
- Working with Jewish Voice for Peace doing neighborhood canvassing focused on welcoming refugees and ending Muslim profiling;
- Participating in monthly vigils at the ICE West County Detention Facility to support immigrant detainees and their families;
- Exploring Kehilla’s potential to be a sanctuary synagogue for those who face deportation;
- Providing legal or counseling services to immigrants;
- Providing direct or financial support for Syrian and other refugees in Europe, through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and other agencies;
- Working with the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition;
- Providing support to Syrian refugees coming to the S.
I left that meeting inspired and moved by the incredible energy among people in the Kehilla community. There are so many ways that so many people are supporting immigrants and refugees, fighting against deportations and human rights abuses, and advocating for policy changes that reflect our commitment to welcome people who are fleeing war, persecution and social and economic turmoil.
One thing that came up at the meeting was the need to let more people know about the work that’s happening, and to help more people join in. How could we get word out about where contributions are needed and how people contribute—whether someone has an occasional few hours or dollars to give, or has housing to share, or can offer an ongoing gift of time?
When the Spiritual Leadership team (Rabbi David, Hazzan Shulamit, Avi Rose, Rabbi Burt, Howard Hamburger, Sandra Razieli, Sharon Grodin and myself) met to consider our theme for this year’s High Holy Days, “immigrants and refugees” emerged as a compelling choice. We saw at least a trio of interconnected reasons to dig into this ground: (1) the urgent humanitarian and justice issues underlying the unprecedented migration underway, (2) the energy already flowing in Kehilla to address the crises, and (3) the potential for our coming together for High Holy Days to help more people respond to the crises.
One more reason to let ourselves be guided by this theme is its profoundly rich spiritual terrain. Experiences of seeking refuge, migrating, yearning for home and offering harbor and kindness to those fleeing from danger open up the big questions that all of us sometimes face in moments of stillness. What is the sense of disorientation, separateness or apartness that we sometimes feel? How do we come to be at home in the world and in ourselves? What is our longing for connection and at-one-ment—where does it come from, and where can it lead us? What are our personal and communal histories of migration and how do they shape us? How can we move toward harmony and balance between our unique individual experience and our shared connection to all that is?
You can read a more complete description of our theme below. Throughout the High Holy Days season and beyond, we’ll be integrating the spiritual practices of this time with ways to learn about and respond to the crises of migration that are shaking our world. During High Holy Days services we’ll hear from some of the folks in our community about their experiences with immigrants and refugees. We’ll also have resources available during services about how to connect with local groups and join in efforts to respond.
And in the months following the High Holy Days, we’ll host a series of four community workshops, featuring congregants working to support immigrants and refugees. The workshop topics are: Considering Offering Housing to a Refugee; Being Part of an Accompaniment Team for an Immigrant Family or Unaccompanied Minor; Immigration Policy, Advocacy and Intersectionality with Economic and Racial Justice Issues; and Kehilla as Sanctuary/Refuge for Immigrants.
May our practice during this season help each of us grow toward greater wholeness, joy, compassion and justice.
Our Theme for 5777: Immigrants and Refugees, Longing and Home
A river goes out from the first place that was home, to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four headwaters. (Bereshit 2:10)
In the beginning all was one, undifferentiated and whole. To come into the joy of embodied life is also to come into separateness. And to be separate is to long for reconnection, to yearn for wholeness and for home. The Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days) point us in the direction of home, and outfit us for the promise and uncertainty of the journey. We soften our hearts and open lines of communication with people we’ve hurt and who have hurt us. We practice accountability, forgiveness, compassion and generosity. We touch those who are dear to us with an extra measure of tenderness and gratitude.
This year we set out on this path in a world of growing displacement and migration. People forced from their homes by war, violence, poverty, drought, gentrification, and a swiftly changing climate are fighting for survival and searching for a refuge where they and their families can be safe. Some in Kehilla are personally impacted, and many in our community are stepping up to help–by working to end structural violence, by challenging the economics underlying displacement, by offering loving personal support to immigrants and refugees, by fighting for policies that welcome immigrants and refugees, and by joining the struggle against deportation, targeting and discrimination against people who are undocumented.
As a community this year we will enter the inner landscape of exile and return. We’ll encounter the stranger who dwells within us, and the stranger who dwells among us. Together we will turn toward this tidal wave of displacement, expanding our capacity to welcome and support the growing number of immigrants and refugees in our midst. As Torah teaches (Lev. 19:33-34), When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim.