Melanie Nezer addresses the changes in the Patriot Act’s overly broad definitions of “terrorist activity” and “terrorist group” that have unjustly prevented thousands of refugees from receiving protection in the United States.
Imagine barely escaping a targeted, brutal attack on your family by armed militants or experiencing persecution triggered by your sexual orientation, making your way to the welcoming shores of the United States—and being immediately detained and imprisoned without any access to legal counsel or representation. This is the harsh reality of thousands of asylum seekers searching for haven in the United States.
Faith and protection—these are two values that embody HIAS’ work around the world, and these also were the two central themes of the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) Dialogue on Protection Challenges last year, which inspired the drafting and circulation of the interfaith document Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders.
The findings from the Pew Research Center’s recent survey, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, have already sparked many discussions about what it means to be Jewish in America. HIAS remains deeply rooted in the organization’s own history of helping Jews facing persecution, but is also rooted in Jewish values, which have supported the organization as it has expanded to protect increasing numbers of non-Jewish refugees.
First-time mission participant Roman Zelichenko remarked, “I expect it was different than most advocacy missions but despite the inability to speak to government officials, I found the guest speakers and participants really valuable to talk and listen to.”
As the global number of refugees continues to grow, Jewish communities from Berkeley to Budapest hold those unable to return home in their prayers this High Holiday season. Rabbi Ferenc Raj, Rabbi Emeritus from Congregation Beth El in Berkeley and founder of Bet Orim Reform Jewish Congregation in Budapest, brought the refugee theme to his congregation this Yom Kippur—along with his very personal experience.
What if picking up your entire life and your family and moving to a new country with a very different culture and language was your only way to survive? What if, upon arrival, people in your new community actively tried to prevent people like you, refugees, from staying in their city?