Dawn Berney, Executive Director of Jewish Social Services
Presentation at the Temple Beth El Sisterhood Shabbat Service
January 27, 2017
Shabbat shalom. Thank you to the Temple Beth El Sisterhood for the lovely service and the warm welcome. And thank you to all of you for not making me stand in this room alone.
Thank you so much to the community. I can’t believe the number of diapers, wipes, detergents, etc. that you have donated.
I had a sermon written that I planned to give tonight. It was great. It included personal stories about how I became involved with Jewish Social Services. It included information about everything that we do and everyone who we serve at Jewish Social Services. It even included a very colorful description of watching one of the Syrian toddlers we resettled playing in the snow for the first time and his interaction with the son of a member of the JSS team. And I would’ve added all that I learned about how much the two little girls who arrived seven days ago loved their first day of elementary school. But then President Trump started to dismantle our safety nets and started to sign Executive Orders. And I deleted the talk that I had written and started over.
Jewish Social Services has three legs. First, we provide social services to those who need help with their basic needs and we provide programming for seniors who might otherwise be isolated. We do case management, help with housing, and help with arranging care. We do the Lechayim lunch program here at Temple Beth El and we do the Levy series. We have been doing these for nearly 40 years and we do them well.
Second, we provide immigration legal services to those who cannot afford lawyers. This includes a significant number of young people who came to the US from other countries, including Mexico as children. They also include asylees who are seeking protection from the dangers in their own communities. JSS has been working in this area for a number of years.
Third, we provide refugee resettlement. We started this work many years ago, first when Jews were fleeing Europe, then we resettled Cubans, then Soviet Jews. Most recently we became an affiliate of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, because the Jewish community of Madison told us that they want to help resettle the more than 21 million refugees there are worldwide. This is 2.5 times the population of New York City. Jewish Social Services is already working with three families from Syria who have arrived in Madison. Two more families from Syria and one from Eritrea are in the pipeline and instead will be continuing to live in refugee camps.
But the president signed an executive order today. I haven’t seen the final version yet, but assuming it is similar to the draft order. This executive order would be a travesty no matter what. But he signed it today, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. And in case anyone was wondering. President Trump neglected to mention Jews at all when he talked about this.
Just so you know, I did think about comparing the president to the Pharaoh in this week’s Torah portion, but I decided not to go there.
Among its provisions the current version of the executive order will:
- Suspend admissions of all people, immigrants and non-immigrants, for 30 days from countries including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
- Suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days, which means no refugees will be allowed in the United States for four months.
- Prohibit Syrian refugees from entering the country until the President decides that Syrian resettlement to the U.S. is in alignment with the best interests of the U.S.
- Prioritize refugee claims, upon resumption of the program, on the basis of religious-based persecution (if that person is a religious minority in their country of nationality). This means that Christians from Muslim countries will be given preference.
The Jewish community has seen America at its best—when many of our families were given opportunities to gain education, join the workforce, and become part of building our great nation. Tragically, we have also seen xenophobia overwhelm our nation’s capacity for compassion, and we have experienced the doors slam shut in our greatest hours of need.
JSS is proud to stand with over 1,700 American rabbis including the rabbi of this congregation, who recently urged elected officials to keep America’s doors open to refugees, declaring that “Our Jewish tradition teaches that every individual was created in the image of God. We must not turn our backs to the suffering of those individuals who have fled horrific violence, and who continue to be in extreme peril.”
Jewish Social Services stands with the Madison Jewish Congregations for Social Justice. We also stand with the Syrian community of Madison, several of whom came to the Jewish Social Services office earlier this afternoon to talk about all of their help to us with the refugees, as well as next steps and a discussion of how we can support one another. We were actually in the middle of this meeting when we heard that the Executive Order had been signed.
This week I read a quote in the Forward newspaper, written by Rabbi Ilana Schackter, campus rabbi at UPenn’s Hillel, who wrote an article about Hillel Students and the Muslim Student Association riding together to the Women’s March in Washington D.C., “We belonged to each other at 5 a.m., when the MSA’s Muslim chaplain described the power of beginning this journey at the last third of the night, a sacred time for Muslims when one is closest to Allah. We belonged to one another just before sunrise, when we laid out prayer rugs for Muslim morning worship. We belonged to one another at the Religious Action Center’s pre-march worship service, where we heard an insightful Torah portion, reflecting on the impact of a new and unknown Pharaoh. As we held up signs, as we huddled together, as we shared our stories, over and over again, we remembered that we belong to each other. Thank you, Mr. President, for the powerful reminder.”
Now I have an ask of all of you.
- Please support the work of Jewish Social Services. Consider volunteering with our agency, either directly members of our community, whether they are seniors, refugees, or others or serve on one of our committees. http://www.jssmadison.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer
- Urge our president, Senators, representatives and governor to continue to Welcome Refugees to Madison. There are flyers floating around. Pick one up and make a call. http://www.hias.org/call-congress.
- Donate to Jewish Social Services. Many of our clients are the people most at risk under this administration. Some rely on Medicare and Badgercare, cash assistance and housing support. Others were brought to the United States as children, have gone to school here, and are studying things like biomedical engineering, but are at risk of being deported. Still others managed to just get to the United States, but their families have been left behind. https://secure.qgiv.com/for/jssomi.
We need to help one another. It is what we have always done at Jewish Social Services and what we continue to do.
UPDATE: The American Immigration Lawyers Association and and National Immigrant Justice Center have issued a travel advisory for refugees and immigrants lawfully trying to enter this country, who are caught in President Trump's ban. Please share and circulate widely!
Read about JSS's efforts and the stories of the three families they have been able to settle here.