INSPIRED BY THE national HIAS Welcome Campaign, a local Jewish partnership for refugee support has formed and is quickly growing. As the Orange County Jewish Coalition for Refugees gains momentum it will focus on four specific areas: advocacy; direct service; tzedakah; and raising awareness. It works closely with local programs and agencies that support refugees here in Orange County.
Since launching, the Coalition has held two events featuring locally resettled refugees who have shared their stories with our community. The Coalition also sponsored a diaper drive for the Tiyya Foundation and a men’s clothing drive for Friends of Orange County Detainees. But most remarkably, members in our network have opened their homes and hearts to house newly-arrived asylum seekers. What more profound way can we “welcome the stranger” than literally providing a room in our home. So far an asylum seeker from Cameroon and Zimbabwe have been housed by Coalition members on both a long and short term basis.
HIAS, formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was founded in the 19th century to serve Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. Today, HIAS is one of nine American refugee resettlement agencies and also operates internationally, providing legal and social services to refugees in locations on multiple continents.
Well over a year ago, the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County joined the HIAS Welcome Campaign initiative, a network of Jewish organizations and congregations across the U.S., who are responding to the largest refugee crisis in history. Participating network members advocate for refugees, raise awareness about the crisis, and welcome refugees to their local communities. Under the leadership of Jackie Menter, the Collaborative’s Social Justice Chair, they began spearheading successful interfaith fundraisers in Orange County for Syrian refugees.
Around the same time, Congregation B’nai Israel also signed on to the Welcome Campaign. CBI members Nancy Neudorf and Beth Katlen wanted to highlight refugees on the CBI tikkun olam agenda and were looking for a place to begin. Rabbi Elie Spitz suggested they contact Jackie, who has been actively working on this issue both internationally and locally for several years.
A partnership was born to serve as a unified Jewish voice addressing the refugee crisis. In January, the Orange County Jewish Coalition for Refugees officially launched as the local HIAS welcome campaign network. In addition to Congregation B’nai Israel and the Jewish Collaborative, OC congregations that have signed on to the HIAS Welcome Campaign include Temple Beth David, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, and University Synagogue. Temple Beth Emet recently joined the Coalition and sponsored a program in April.
The Coalition’s leadership team welcomes new participants to support its mission. In addition to holding programs that shed light on refugee issues, it will promote volunteer opportunities throughout Orange County that will bring you face to face with our own refugee community.
To mark World Refugee Day, recognized annually in June, please join the Coalition at a screening of the film Exodus with the film maker, Elias Matar on Sunday, June 10th at 3:00pm at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. Mr. Matar is a Syrian-American who traveled to Greece to document the harrowing journey of Syrian refugees as they cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. At the time of filming 3,000 refugees were making the treacherous crossing daily to seek asylum in the European Union. This program is free and open to the community.
For more information about the Orange County Jewish Coalition for Refugees, and to receive our monthly newsletter, email OCJewishCoallitionforRefugees@gmail.com and join our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/OCJewishCoalitionforRefugees/.