SOCIAL ACTION COMMITTEE
Refugee Shabbat, Saturday morning, October 20, 2018, hosted a guest speaker, Sharnado, at WES, who told us the story of his journey from persecution in Jamaica to finding asylym in New York, where he is now an employed, hardworking, tax-paying green card applicant.
Thursday evening, November 1, 2018, How Trump's Immigration Policies Are Changing Lives and Changing America - a discussion with guest speakers Matt Katz, WNYC Journalist who covers immigration and asylum issues and Jeffrey Heller, immigration lawyer. Sponsored by the Social Action Committee and WES Adult Education.
Oct 20-Nov. 4, 2018 - Collection of Stationery, Stamps, Folders, Pens. More than 2000 asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants, and even green card holders without criminal records (mainly adult males) are living in crowded detention centers and county jails in NJ for indefinite periods of time and have little or nothing to do. It is critical for their morale to stay in touch with family and friends. The Social Action Committee is sponsoring a collection of stationery, stamps, games and donations for phone cards. A collection box will be placed in the lobby of WES, from Sat. Oct. 20 through Sun., Nov. 4.
For a list of opportuntities to participate with organizations that support immigrants and refugees, please click here (as well as read below).
With so much that is broken and in need of healing in the world today, it would be hard to know where to begin if WES didn’t have a Social Action Committee (SAC) with a long history. The committee’s well-earned reputation for excellent programming has emphasized acts of kindness, activist work on behalf of social justice and advocacy. Often intergenerational in nature, SAC’s work has been a mainstay of this community helping us to live according to one of our deepest values, “repairing the world”
All that being true, it was quickly recognized that the 21st century is presenting some unprecedented challenges. While the plan for 2018-19 began by relying on some of the committee's traditional options for social action, modifying where necessary, the committee has also tried to create a fresh variety of community-wide activities as well as home-based or small group options that align with individual abilities and interests. At the same time, we found that it was more necessary than ever to join with other Jewish and faith-based organizations to have a bigger impact while not duplicating activities.
In 2018-19, SAC is continuing its focus on two themes, Welcoming the Stranger and The Environment, while allowing space for other topics to emerge. These rubrics allow us to solidify former programming ideas while expanding activities to meet new challenges. To provide an efficient information conduit for those interested in our fast-changing world, a new Google group, WESSACNEWS, was created. (To join this group, send a blank message to wessacnews+subscribe [at] googlegroups [dot] com). The group is moderated by SAC co-chairs Helen Stein and Bliss Siman. While Helen and Bliss work together to ensure a social action agenda that reflects the interests of the congregation, each is also responsible for one of the themes: Welcoming the Stranger (Helen) and The Environment (Bliss) in cooperation with the SAC committee.
Welcoming the Stranger
“One who has saved one life is as though one has saved the world” WES continues to hold an annual Hunger Shabbat every November and participate in the 1000 Turkey Challenge, sponsored by the West Side Coalition Against Hunger (WSCAH) along with other Upper West Side faith-based organizations. Donations from WES members allow WSCAH to purchase the turkeys and distribute them to those in need. For more information on WSCAH, go to their website at www.wscah.org.
Several new initiatives have been created with a focus on the needs of local refugee and immigrant communities.
In 2017 and 2018, WES members participated in the Syrian Supper Club. Groups of WES members enjoyed a dinner at a member’s home that was cooked by a Syrian refugee family. The dinners exposed us to new and delicious foods as well as enjoyable and valuable interactions between the diners from WES and the Syrian families who prepared the meals. Fees collected for the dinner went to the cooks to assist their efforts to become more self-supporting. Watch for announcements of more dinners in the pipeline for coming months.
Synagogue Coalition on the Refugee and Immigrant Crisis (SCRIC): In 2016, WES was one of the founding synagogues of SCRIC. SCRIC now includes 17 synagogues and 4 non-profits. Its mission is to provide information, support and resources to refugees and immigrants, to educate our own communities, and to plan joint actions with other groups and institutions. It also acts as a clearinghouse for information on activities conducted by existing groups.
Because of our relationship with SCRIC, we have participated in the following activities:
Vigil In Memory of the St. Louis: Along with HIAS, SCRIC held a vigil on June 6, 2017 to commemorate the St. Louis, a ship filled with European Jewish refugees that sailed for Cuba in 1939. The refugees were neither accepted there nor in Canada or the US ostensibly because the immigrant quotas were “full.” Returning to Europe, a third of the passengers died in the Holocaust. The vigil was also held to raise awareness that President Trump was intent on establishing a smaller annual immigrant quota. WES members helped organize the vigil, participated in it, and attended.
Helping Refugees Families Settling in NYC: In the summer of 2017, WES members donated clothing and household items to an Afghan refugee family, who with HIAS’ help, had moved into an apartment in Queens. Through the SCRIC, we will continue to learn of families who will need donations for their resettlement in the 5 boroughs.
For a second year, a collection box will be placed in the lobby of WES, from Sat. Oct. 20 through Sun., Nov. 4. More than 2000 asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants, and even green card holders without criminal records (mainly adult males) are living in crowded detention centers and county jails in NJ for indefinite periods of time and have little or nothing to do. It is critical for their morale to stay in touch with family and friends. The Social Action Committee is sponsoring a collection of stationery, stamps, games and donations for phone cards.
Other New Ventures
The first WES Immigration Shabbat took place in January 2018, on Shabbat Shirah, where the Parasha highlights the “Song of the Sea”, the celebration of Moses and Miriam leading the Israelites across the Sea of Reeds and out of Egypt. Our Hazzan, Ayelet Porzecanski, performed her original operetta, “Clara”,” about the life of a fictional Russian immigrant girl who came across the Atlantic to settle in New York. Hazzan Porzecanski’s powerful performance along with additional readings about the immigrant experience, and information about opportunities for volunteering and advocacy created a memorable observance on behalf of immigrants. The recording can be found here.
On Feb. 23, 2018, SAC co-sponsored, along with HIAS and NIF, a special Shabbat service featuring Tamara Newman from the Hotline for Migrants and Refugees in Israel. She spoke about Israel, Responsibility and Refugees, to update us on the struggles of African refugees currently faced with the choice of deportation to Africa and likely death, or imprisonment in Israel.
How You Can Help Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Immigrants in New York
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. Leviticus 19:33
In these difficult times, all non-native born people in our country, from naturalized citizens to green card holders to asylum seekers to the undocumented, live with the possibility, and, too often, the reality of disrespect, harassment, arrest, detention, and deportation. The West End Social Action Committee has prepared this flyer to inform you of organizations in Manhattan and New Jersey that provide helping hands to the refugee and immigrant communities. These organizations are worthy of your donations and have opportunities for volunteers. While this list is not exhaustive, it provides alternative paths for fulfilling our tradition of welcoming the stranger. Click here for more information.
Recycling at West End includes not only plastic cutlery but continues the collection of food scraps and “dirty” paper” after Kiddush into a compost bin. Non-recyclable paper cups have replaced Styrofoam cups, but hey, they are not styrofoam!
Fair Trade Products: For Hanukkah 2017 the committee partly supported the purchase of Fair Trade “gelt “ for group Hanukkah events and our Hanukkah party. We hope to purchase Fair Trade coffee for congregational events and will continue to encourage congregants to purchase Fair Trade chocolate for holiday celebrations
Earth Day observance April 22, 2018. A venerable West End tradition, Earth Day confronted the issue of plastics in the environment, which is the world-wide theme for 2018. A panel of experts from within the congregation spoke on climate change and related topics. We displayed sustainable items and provided literature about ways to replace plastics at home. The event provided opportunities for adults to find new ways to make a bigger commitment to a sustainable life.
SAC in cooperation with Rabbi Georgette responds to the present issues roiling our country on sexual harassment in its varied forms. Discussions are in progress to create a set of programs for adults and young people on the moral and ethical treatment of others. WESSACNEWS will have information on the progress of this work. If you are interested in being a part of this program planning, please let Rabbi Georgette gkennebrae [at] westendsynagogue.org (e-mail) know or contact Sandy Warshaw sandywarshaw [at] gmail.com (e-mail).