September 2018 -- Elul-Tishrei 5779,  Volume 24, Issue 9

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The National Refugee Shabbat

The National Refugee Shabbat 2018, which falls on October 19th-20th, is a moment for congregations, organizations, and individuals around the country to create a Shabbat experience dedicated to refugees. The parsha (Torah portion) for this shabbat is Lech Lecha, which describes the beginning of the experience of wandering in search of freedom for the Jewish people. This makes it a particularly meaningful opportunity to deepen understanding of today’s global refugee crisis, connect with the Jewish movement for refugees, commit (or recommit) to taking action, and either celebrate a community’s achievements in working with refugees or launch new efforts.


HIAS, the organization that has been protecting refugees for more than 130 years, notes that, “we are witnesses to one of the largest humanitarian crises in human history. There are now more than 65 million people who have fled their homes due to persecution and violence. And, yet, in this moment of unprecedented need, our government is grinding the U.S. refugee admissions program to a halt and cutting humanitarian aid. This year, the United States is poised to admit tens of thousands fewer refugees than in years past.”


The Jewish movement for refugees in the U.S. has grown exponentially since 2015 - with individuals, congregations, and organizations volunteering, raising awareness, and advocating for refugees around the country and the world. The involvement of the community has made a difference.


National Refugee Shabbat will take place just after the expected announcement of the Presidential Determination - the cap on refugee admissions for the coming year - and just before the 2018 midterm elections. “It is the perfect moment to raise awareness in our community, to recognize the work that has been done, and to reaffirm our commitment to welcoming refugees,” HIAS explains.


 Participation in National Refugee Shabbat can be multifaceted.  It could be the culmination of a week of action on refugee issues, a moment to simply focus on learning more about the global refugee crisis in a Jewish context, or an opportunity to convene Jewish (or interfaith) congregations to learn and chart a course of action together.


For congregations, one might consider including a liturgical reading on the theme of the refugee crisis in Shabbat services and/or dedicating a sermon or text study to the topic. If you have a relationship with a refugee or refugee professional in your local community, consider inviting that person to speak during services. In addition, you might plan a Shabbat dinner program after Friday evening services or a Shabbat lunch program after Saturday morning services.


 HIAS  recommends  considering  having many congregations come  together for Havdalah and a post-Havdalah program, which will allow groups  to partner with one another on a larger program and explore programming options with which one  might not feel comfortable on Shabbat (e.g., writing, video). In preparation for the 2018 midterm elections, consider inviting local candidates to attend any event you plan as part of the Shabbat.


 For individuals and congregations alike, HIAS can provide a Content Resource Guide that may be helpful to build the programming. The Content Resource Guide  includes  several programmatic modules: an outline for a chamber music concert including compositions from Jewish and contemporary refugees: a conversational guide for the movie “Human Flow”; a workshop on having difficult conversations that uses refugee stories to address specific anti-refugee sentiments; and an advocacy session that will guide one  through personal and communal story telling that can be used in -district meetings.


Most relevant to congregations,  of course, available to everyone ,  the Content Resource will also include a liturgical reading, sermon talking points and a text study.

 National Co-sponsors of   The National Refugee Shabbat include: Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR); American Jewish Committee (AJC); Anti-Defamation League (ADL); Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA); National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW); Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies; The Rabbinical Assembly (RA); Reconstructing Judaism; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA);  T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Union for Reform Judaism (URJ); United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).


For more information visit or  call 212-967-4100.