The social hall at Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. was humming with conversation. Roughly 100 people, representing more than 20 synagogues in the D.C. area between them, eagerly awaited information about how their congregations might take on the global refugee crisis in a very local way: partnering with a newly-arrived refugee family through the HIAS Welcome Campaign.
Saba Al Tameemi came to Washington state with her husband and two children in October 2015. Just two months later, the 35-year-old Iraqi with a master’s degree in English and American Literature from the University of Baghdad began helping other newly arrived refugees achieve self-sufficiency.
Early Sunday morning, Charlie Blank and Jenn Corker set off to meet a family of Afghan refugees. A halal turkey sat in a cooler on the back seat. Blank and Corker are members of East End Temple, a Reform Jewish congregation in Manhattan that has been working with HIAS to find ways to support and advocate for refugees.
Recognizing the growing demand for assistance navigating the tedious legal process tied to securing asylum status in the U.S., HIAS recently launched a pro bono training program for attorneys to volunteer their services.
Before they were raising funds from donors and corporate foundations in support of refugees, they were colleagues in the financial world. Greg Sharenow and Hussein Allidina founded the Interfaith Refugee Project as a way for their peers in the financial industry to join a united, interfaith response to the global refugee crisis.
Marina Berger, a personal chef, got involved with HIAS after hearing her rabbi speak about the Syrian refugee crisis during Yom Kippur services last fall. She recognized a familiar name among the organizations that were mentioned as helping refugees in the United States. “HIAS resettled my parents, brother and extended family when they emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s,” Berger said.
In a powerful show of support for Syrian refugees, close to 1,000 volunteers gathered in the historic 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, assembling personal hygiene kits for those who have fled the Syrian civil war. “It made me feel part of a larger community. One that is saying to the recipients of these packages, there are people who care about you. You are not forgotten,” said Laurel Garron, a HIAS volunteer.