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Sanctuary: Where We Are Now

On May 12, more than 100 members of our community participated in an all-day Sanctuary Shabbat. The theme of sanctuary was beautifully threaded through the music, prayers, Torah service and talks. Kehilla members, Leah Korican and Ralph Silber, shared deeply moving stories of their families being given sanctuary during WWII, at great risk to those who took them in. These stories connected our efforts to offer physical sanctuary at Kehilla to our collective histories and experiences.

Guest speaker, Pastor Jeff Johnson of University Lutheran Chapel, a sanctuary congregation in Berkeley, taught about what he called “holy contagion,” the ripple effect that can happen when even one congregation takes strong leadership. Pastor Jeff spoke about how support for sanctuary spread rapidly after his church offered sanctuary to naval officers who left their posts during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon we had the honor of hearing from Lourdes Barraza and Fernando Carrillo, whose family continues to be deeply impacted by what they describe as the “nightmare” of Fernando being detained by ICE and threatened with deportation. Though Fernando is now home with his family, the experience was life-changing for both Lourdes and Fernando, who now regularly tell their story and speak out in solidarity with those who are affected by unjust immigration policies.

This talk was followed by an information session on Kehilla’s exploration of sanctuary, hosted by Sanctuary Task Force members, Rabbi Dev Noily, Julie Litwin and Tova Vance, listening circles, in which participants shared their own connections, thoughts and questions about sanctuary, and a Q&A panel, during which Executive Director Michael Saxe-Taller joined the information session leaders.

Overwhelmingly, people who attended the Sanctuary Shabbat expressed feelings of pride in Kehilla’s steps towards offering sanctuary and spoke about being moved by the stories shared during the day. A few had anxiety about what kind of external responses we might receive or concerns about ensuring good living conditions for guests. Several people said they were impressed by the thoughtful process and carefully laid groundwork. Many talked about wanting to expand the impact of our work, the strength of our Kehilla community and feeling compelled to contribute to our sanctuary work.

During May, in addition to the Sanctuary Shabbat event, the Sanctuary Task Force held special sessions for Kehilla School parents to discuss questions and concerns about sanctuary, and specifically to address any issues related to Kehilla School.

These actions marked the beginning of engaging our broader Kehilla community on sanctuary. There is much to share about this important issue. To help our members learn more, the Sanctuary Task Force posted a number of items on our website, including statements on sanctuary from Rabbi Dev and our spiritual leaders, a background article about the process of deepening our sanctuary work over the past several years, and a Q&A. The Q&A addresses many of the questions that have been posed and will be updated as new questions arise.

The Sanctuary Task Force will also host a second Q&A session on sanctuary for the Kehilla community on Saturday, June 16 at 1 pm, and additional opportunities for engaging on this topic will be planned based on feedback and questions from our community.

In the meantime, if you have questions or would like to help with our sanctuary efforts, please contact ImmigrationCommitteeChairs@kehillasynagogue.org.

Julie Litwin, Catherine Lyons, Rabbi Dev Noily, Penny Rosenwasser, Richard Speiglman, Tova Vance and Michael Saxe-Taller
Sanctuary Task Force Members

Karen Cohn, Barbara Peterson
Board of Trustees Co-Chairs

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