Sanctuary Synagogues Band Together to Say ‘Never Again’

(Photo via The Jewish Week)

For two coalitions in NYC, what started out in 2016 as a mission to help refugees as part of the sanctuary synagogue movement has expanded to also help immigrants, reports The Jewish Week’s Amy Sara Clark.

A group of Upper West Side synagogues had banded together in June 2016 to address the refugee crisis. After President Trump took office, they started to also help asylum seekers, DACA recipients and other immigrants, and took on the name Synagogue Coalition on the Refugee and Immigration Crisis. The group includes 16 Manhattan synagogues, one Queens synagogue and several Jewish nonprofits.

Meanwhile, in October 2016, Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope started a refugee task force and along with other area synagogues created the Brownstone Brooklyn Synagogue Refugee Project.

In the 17 months since, the coalitions have lobbied lawmakers and visited detainees, trained lawyers on asylum applications and collected goods and money for refugees here and across the Atlantic. They’ve marched, held vigils, written letters, organized panel discussions and film screenings, and accompanied immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hearings. The coalitions sometimes work as one group, sometimes as two, and often as cross-shul subcommittees or as individual congregations.

“There’s just an amazing group of people who are very passionate,” said Leah Cover. “I think that there was a very strong feeling among many of the synagogues in Brooklyn of: ‘We know that we were refugees, and we owe it to other communities to help them.’

“I grew up being told: Never again; this is a moment when we have to say never again. I want my country to be a welcoming place.”

Myra Miller, chair of the social justice action committee at the Upper West Side’s Society for the Advancement of Judaism, commented that “It’s really a new thing that synagogues are working together on this scale.” She added:

“I don’t think there’s been anything like this since the ’60s. … This is really pretty wide and deep — as much as anything in the last almost 50 years.”

The Jewish Week’s Clark noted that no synagogue in the city plans to house refugees but one in New Jersey announced it will provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Find out what is “unusual” about the synagogue in Montclair, and read the full story on the sanctuary synagogue movement at The Jewish Week.

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