What Can Vassar Temple Do About the Refugee Crisis?

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May 5, 2016

Dear Congregants:

Many of us have watched the suffering of refugee families and felt helpless in our ability to take a concrete action to actually make a difference. As Jews, ethical teachings in the Mishnah compel us to perform acts of Tikkun Olam. I am writing to share some exciting news about how our Temple and those interested can help!

Last month, our Vassar Temple Board voted to join with Vassar College and other local faith-based institutions in a collaboration called the Vassar College Refugee Solidarity Initiative. The leaders of this project expect there to be at least 8-9 congregations who will each sponsor a refugee family for the initial phase of the project. Vassar Temple’s action has set a fine example of leadership for other congregations and fellowships in our region, and others are already following our lead.
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Because security is essential, and because we are not inventing the wheel, this project and the refugee family that will be sponsored to resettle in Dutchess County, will be under the supervision and guidance of a designated refugee resettlement agency, also known as a VOLAG. These agencies work together with the U.S. State Department to receive and relocate refugee families all of whom have been screened and vetted through diverse offices in the State Department and Homeland Security. A full description of this project and an overview of United States Refugee Law and Policy is attached to this post (see below).

The financial obligation of sponsoring a family will be covered through funding outside of the Vassar Temple budget that will include private and community foundation resources and possible support from Vassar College. Our Temple’s Social Action Committee is spearheading our efforts, and will seek volunteer efforts to assist and support the designated family with housing, schools, medical care and employment. The Ciminello family has already volunteered to provide housing for the family we sponsor.

Through this project we are able to do more than advocacy and fundraising; we can actually welcome a family to our community and demonstrate our commitment to addressing the worldwide refugee crisis. Perhaps someday, that family’s experience will somehow shape the world in positive ways! Ken Yehi Ratzon!

In the coming months, we will be forming a committee of Temple members who want to join this project’s efforts in some way. The current leadership for the project is: Andi & Paul Ciminello, Jen Dahnert, Marian Schwartz, and Rabbi Berkowitz. We are working very closely with Dr. Maria Hoehn, Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Vassar College. Information about the project will be available at our Congregational Meeting on June 15th and there will be media announcements about this newly formed collaboration.

If you have questions or are interested in supporting this very important project, I ask you to contact one of the members of this committee directly, or you can also speak with Rabbi Berkowitz. Naturally, you are welcome to contact the temple president about this decision from a board standpoint.

I am very proud of Vassar Temple for taking this important step. I ask you to have faith in our efforts and to put what we are doing in needed perspective. We are a progressive, compassionate and resourceful community. We can’t solve the whole refugee problem, but we can save at least one family.

Let’s be true to our teachings: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

Sincerely,

Bob Ritter
President

VC – VT Project Info Sheet

An-Overview-of-US-Refugee-Law-and-Policy 2

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