Refugee Shabbat: Timeless Jewish Commitment to Welcoming the Stranger

By Rabbi Laura Rumpf, Director of Project Kavod

Refugee Shabbat is a moment for congregations, organizations, and individuals around the country to dedicate a Shabbat experience to refugees and asylum seekers. This special Shabbat has even gone international with communities in Canada, Europe, and around the world taking part.

As a diverse Jewish peoplehood, we know that the impact of displacement and resettlement ripples far beyond one generation, to affect children, grandchildren, and wider circles of community. In the book of Exodus, before our ancestor Moses rose to lead the Israelite people to freedom, he eternalized that truth through the name he gave his firstborn son, Gershom, meaning “I was a stranger (Heb.ger) in a foreign land.” (Exodus 2:22).

In passing on this weighty name to his child, Moses seems to have embraced the aspect of his identity that would perpetually be a refugee, leading from a lens of “otherness” amidst a dominant culture. Perhaps he sensed that his history as a displaced person was one of his greatest assets—allowing him to act from a place of justice and empathy towards others seeking freedom and a chance to rebuild home.

In the many centuries since that ancestral Exodus, Jews have known the experience of the stranger intimately through countless instances of forced exile or necessary immigration. JFS Seattle exists today in large part thanks to the motivation that mother and daughter Esther Levy and Lizzie Cooper felt in the late 1800s to welcome the hundreds of European and Mediterranean Jewish refugees arriving in the Northwest. The call to love and care for the stranger has continued to drive our mission to this day, as the demographics of those seeking asylum and resettlement shift and the needs grow exponentially.

As we mark this 6th Annual HIAS Refugee Shabbat, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has grown to over 110 million. We are proud of our Refugee & Immigrant Services team working to meet the needs of individuals and families resettling in the Puget Sound, including unaccompanied minors, through tireless and multi-faceted efforts.

This Shabbat observance could not come at a more critical time in our organized Jewish community to reaffirm our commitment to those seeking safety and freedom—not only for themselves, but for the generations who will inherit their stories and their names. May we do our part to make those stories ones of welcoming, robust caring and compassion, and foundational remaking of worlds.



Build a backpack, welcome a refugee!
Help fill backpacks for teens who come to the United States as unaccompanied minors or who are survivors of labor or sex trafficking. Purchase supplies from our wish list that will help make them feel comfortable and welcome as they are starting their new lives. Fill a backpack.

Give the gift of warmth!
Donate a new winter coat and provide resettled refugees a necessity they do not have when they arrive and one that is too expensive to purchase. Learn more.

Welcome the stranger!
By purchasing a household item from our wish list, you are helping to provide a newly resettled family with the essential items they need to furnish their new homes. Go to our wish list.

Donate your time!
Join our volunteer on-call list to support our resettlement work. Potential opportunities include apartment setups, grocery shopping, and more! Email for more information!

Support refugees with a donation to JFS!
Make a gift to support our ongoing efforts to welcome and resettle refugees, including Afghans and Ukrainians, to the Puget Sound. Donate Now. 

Attend a Local Refugee Shabbat Program!
Beth Shalom: Amplifying Refugee Voices to Inspire Action. 2/3-2/4
Join Beth Shalom on Saturday, Feb. 3, for a D’var Torah by Rabbi Borodin, followed by Shabbat learning lead by CBS members. On Sunday, Feb. 4, don’t miss presentations by Wide World of Refugee Voices, International Rescue Committee, and Project Feast. Experience a captivating blend of poetry, music, spoken word, and compelling storytelling by refugees. Put advocacy into action and make a lasting impact! Nibble on Project Feast snacks and visit opportunity & information tables to put your inspiration to work. Register here.

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