By: Rabbi Peter S. Berg
About the Author
Rabbi Peter S. Berg is the Senior Rabbi of The Temple in Atlanta GA, and an advocate for social change. Over the years, Rabbi Berg has spent a great deal of time working with advocacy groups on various issues. He has served on numerous communal and advisory boards, and he is a member of the Greater Atlanta Reform Clergy Association and the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.
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Since the year 2001, global citizens have been observing World Refugee Day. Established by the United Nations, this event held on June 20th each year honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homelands under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. This year, World Refugee Day is as important as any time in our country’s great history.
Conflicts around the world have forced more than 65 million people to flee their homelands due to persecution, harassment, threats, abductions, or torture; because of their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or political opinions.
Despite these horrific traumas, we see time and again that refugees are brave, resilient, and resourceful. Even as they have left everything they know behind – including their homes, jobs, and savings –they find ways not just to survive in America but to thrive. Nonetheless, we can’t ask them to do it all alone!
This is the month during which we give extra focus, all over the world, to help refugees find safety and freedom and to regain control of their lives. For each of us, this critical work is guided by our values and our historical experiences of forced immigration.
Our commitment at The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest and largest synagogue which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, goes back to our founding in 1867. One of our first goals, even before we held worship services, was to be a haven for refugee families in the then small city of Atlanta. We have never veered from this vision of being a house of worship to all of God’s children. We helped to found the Atlanta German Association to foster immigration in 1872 and the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society in 1881; to settle European families coming to Atlanta in the late 1800’s; and to relocate 150 Russian families in 1890. We loaned our Temple to Russian refugees for night classes in 1892; tutored Hungarian immigrants in 1894; provided occupational and rehabilitation assistance to refugees fleeing from Hitler in the 1940’s; settled Soviet families fleeing Russia in the 1970’s; and worked with the Atlanta Christian Council and the Refugee Sponsorship Program (The Temple’s Spirit of St. Louis) to sponsor immigrant families from Laos.
Our original members, mostly immigrants and refugees, have made lasting contributions to the Atlanta community – including the formation of Atlanta’s only homeless shelter for couples, the Zaban-Paradies Center, and the creation of the Atlanta Public School System and Grady Hospital.
Jewish tradition is clear on the treatment of refugees: our faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. It is a principle that permeates our tradition and is echoed thirty-five times in our Torah, the most repeated of any commandment.
Our own people’s history as strangers reminds us of the many struggles faced by refugees today, and we affirm our commitment to create the same opportunities for today’s refugees that were so valuable to our own community so many years ago.
Most members of our Temple can identify with their own relatives who came to this country seeking refuge from persecution, famine, poverty, or violence. Within the collective Jewish memory, unfortunately, we have many such stories. The most iconic is the German transatlantic liner, St. Louis, that set sail on May 13, 1939 from Hamburg, Germany for Havana, Cuba.
On the voyage were 938 passengers, only one whom was not a refugee. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for US visas, and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States. But, by the time the St. Louis sailed, there were signs that political conditions in Cuba might keep the passengers from landing there. The passengers themselves were not informed; most were compelled to return to Europe. History has recorded their fate.
When we dig deep into our own family stories, we too find stories of bravery, grace, tenacity, and support. And we find this singular truth: refugees strengthen the United States of America every day.
Let’s make World Refugee Day count this year by pledging to offer legal protection, psychological care, and avenues for self-sufficiency to new refugees who will continue to make our country great.
One of the most important questions of the Bible occurs in the story of Cain and Abel. God in Chapter 4 of Genesis asks Cain – “Where is your brother?” An omniscient God knows exactly what happened to Abel, so this question takes on a different meaning: Do you know your brother’s story? Do you know your sister’s story? Are you your brother’s keeper? Are you your sister’s keeper?
Let this question be a constant beacon for us as we reach World Refugee Day. Let us use this question as a North Star to help guide us through one of the most significant questions facing our nation today. Where are our brothers and sisters? Where are we?
May 2017: Love>Fear: And It’s Good For Business by Bonnie Kallenberg
April 2017:Talking with Babies Makes Their Brains Smarter by Nitza Vega-Lahr, Ph.D.
March 2017: It’s All About Student Support by Terry Segovis
February 2017: Clarkston, Georgia: An Ever-Changing Town by Awet Eyasu
January 2017: Reclaiming Georgia’s Legacy of Love by Paedia Mixon
December 2016: Reflections on Welcoming Communities Trip to Germany by Alicia Phillip
November 2016: Thanksgiving in America by Bishop Robert Wright
October 2016: Voting: The Real American Dream by Elizabeth Poythress
August/September 2016: From the Road: das Willkommen by Paedia Mixon
July 2016: My Life In AmeriCorps by Lauren Mertens
June 2016: Reflecting On World Refugee Day
May 2016: A Gift for my Parents by Bee Nguyen
April 2016: The Ripple Effect by Breauna Hagen
March 2016: Lessons I’ve Learned Tutoring a Refugee by Ashley Hager
February 2016: For the Love of Humanity by Safia Jama
January 2016: 4D Service Learning at The Galloway School by Scotti Belfi
November and December 2015: A Case for Syrian Resettlement by Paedia Mixon
October 2015: Creating a Welcoming Atlanta Interview with Luisa Cardona
September 2015: Third-Annual Red, White and NEW Event Exceeds Fundraising and Advocacy Goals by Kelley Lugo
August 2015: Patti Garrett – August 2015 Food for Thought by Patti Garrett
July 2015: Engaging International Families in Parent Groups by Patti Ghezzi
June 2015: Reflecting on the Fourth of July by Kevin Abel
May 2015: Looking Back on Iraq by Whitney Kweskin
April 2015: All Hail Hall by Spencer Hall
March 2015: Honoring our Volunteers by Adriana Varela
February 2015: Celebrating New Americans by Charles Barnwell and Bob Glick
January 2015: What Refugees Leave Behind by Wendy Cheeks
December 2014: Welcoming Week in Atlanta by Emily Pelton
ARTICLES | LINKS:
Refugee entrepreneurs are expanding prosperity for all Atlantans by opening new businesses that add to the tax base, employ local residents, and bring fresh ideas and products to our community.
ARTICLES | LINKS:
“Doing Business Like a Refugee” – For countries that embrace refugee business, what follows is often a boon to the economy, and an outlet for the refugees themselves. Via NPR Planet Money
“Where are refugees to the US coming from?” : via Washington Post
“U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Migrant Children” – This summer, religious leaders across the United States lead the cause of welcoming unaccompanied migrant children to their communities. via New York Times Link
“The Children of the Drug Wars: A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis” – The ongoing issues facing Central American countries, forcing thousands of unaccompanied children are complicated. Here is one view of the crisis. via New York Times Link
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