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What does it mean to welcome the stranger?

By Sue Levy

As Jews we are directed to welcome the stranger for several reasons: because we were strangers in Egypt; because we bear witness to the Holocaust; because we are commanded to build a better world. In practical terms, this means we must support the legal framework that provides safe harbor for refugees and immigrants, and we must help to build and maintain the social structures that welcome those in need. Today both the legal framework for refugee protection and the social fabric which unites us are under attack.

While worldwide refugee populations are greater than they have ever been, refugee arrival numbers for U.S. resettlement have been capped at the lowest levels since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. The rate of denial for requests for asylum for people in the United States has risen to 62%, and asylum applicants have been brutally separated from their children. These cutbacks threaten the lives of the millions of refugees throughout the world who are unable to return to their homelands. They also threaten the existence of programs such as the JSS resettlement unit, reducing our capacity to resettle refugees now and in the future.

You can welcome the stranger by:

  • Educating yourself and others about refugees and immigrants:
  • Come to the Refugee Crisis Shabbat on October 26
  • UW-Madison Professor Scott Straus will discuss worldwide and U.S. refugee issues, while Rabbi Bauer and Rabbi Biatch will address what Jewish Social Services and Temple Beth El are doing to provide welcome to refugees.
  • Read some of the materials at the HIAS Resource Center or at the Immigrant Learning Center
  • Watch the film This is Home, featuring four Syrian refugee families. The film will be shown at 1:30 pm on December 2 at the Fitchburg library, with a discussion hosted by JSS and the Jewish Congregations for Social Justice Coalition.
  • Watch the documentary Inside the Trauma of Family Separation at Christ Presbyterian Church, December 4, from 7:00-9:00 pm.
  • Speak up when refugees and immigrants are vilified.


  • Contact Becca Schwartz at JSS (608-442-4086) to get information on volunteering. Opportunities include driving new families to appointments; teaching them to ride the bus; collecting furniture and household goods; and helping with homework.
  • Assist the Community Immigration Law Center (608-257-4845) to provide legal assistance to undocumented aliens, applicants for asylum and refugees. Assist with interviewing clients and with transportation to immigration interviews. Training for those interested in conducting intake interviews will be provided periodically.


  • Speak out for a robust refugee resettlement program with annual admissions of at least 75,000.
  • Work to end the separation of families seeking asylum and the indefinite detention of children.
  • Write or call your members of Congress: Call Senator Tammy Baldwin (Madison Office 608-264-5338; Washington Office 202-224-5653) and Senator Ron Johnson (Madison Office 608-240-9629; Washington Office 202-224-5323) and Representative Mark Pocan (202-225-2906), or email them through their websites.
  • Join a letter-writing group to support detained immigrants at an event at Christ Presbyterian Church; Words of Worth—Letters to the Border October 29, 7:00-9:00 pm.


  • On November 6, vote for candidates who support a strong refugee program and humane treatment of immigrants.
June 18, 2019 15 Sivan 5779