Each year, JFS joins with communities across the US and the world to observe Refugee Shabbat. The global initiative, spearheaded by the international Jewish humanitarian organization HIAS, encourages synagogues, other community organizations, and individuals to dedicate a Shabbat experience to reaffirming support for refugees. “Shabbat is a day of rest, but Refugee Shabbat is a day when we commit to action—fulfilling the commandment to welcome the stranger,” said HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield. This year, Refugee Shabbat takes place on February 3-4, 2023.
JFS is honored to dedicate every day to the global effort to help refugees and immigrants fleeing violence and conflict establish new lives in the Puget Sound, including Ukrainians and Afghans. Alima’s story is just one of more than 100 million stories of people who have been forcibly displaced around the world.
It’s been a long journey for Alima* and her son. Originally from Afghanistan, they came to the US in 2016 from Turkey after living as refugees in Iran. She first resettled in Maryland and struggled as a single parent with a six-year-old. She wasn’t able to go to ESL classes, and she didn’t know how to drive.
Alima had a friend who lived in Seattle who suggested she could find a better life in Washington, so Alima moved to Kent in 2021. Due to the pandemic, it took some time for her to find and set up an apartment. After several months, Alima enrolled in the Women’s Empowerment Program with JFS and began to learn how to navigate the social service systems in Seattle.
With the help of her case manager, Alima applied for food and cash assistance, secured medical coverage, and found a primary care provider for herself and her son. Her case manager also helped her enroll in ESL classes, find driving lessons, and register her son for school. With a laptop provided by JFS and through our partnership with the Refugee Women’s Alliance (REWA), Alima was able to take digital and financial literacy lessons. Today, she has her driver’s license, is working on her English, and has a close community of friends who support her as she works toward her goal of studying business in college and opening a women’s clothing store in Kent.
Alima is one of 3.1 million refugees who have been admitted to the United States in the last 40 years, and the need is only increasing as global instability continues to spread. Last year, more than 100 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations– the highest number on record. In 2023, the United States will allow the admission of up to 125,000 refugees, and Washington is among the top five states for resettlement.
Our Refugee & Immigrant Services program (RIS) has responded to the growing need and played a vital role in assisting 1,398 children, adults, and families rebuild their lives in the Puget Sound region, including 440 individuals from Afghanistan and 44 people fleeing war in Ukraine in the past year. We are honored to be able to support our new neighbors from throughout the world with trauma-informed case management, economic integration, women’s empowerment, professional networking, ESL and citizenship classes, and more.
RIS program volunteer Victoria recognizes the impact: “What I am doing feels like such a small drop in the overwhelming ocean of our current migration crisis, but the wonderful JFS staff, and of course, the courage and warmth of the arriving refugees helps to keep the feelings of helplessness at bay.”
Recently, JFS launched a Humanitarian Relief Case Management program to assist the most highly vulnerable refugees, including asylum seekers, survivors of sex and labor trafficking, and unaccompanied minors. With the addition of the program’s full-time attorney in 2021, we became only one of two organizations in Seattle to provide essential legal services alongside holistic support services to help clients through the immigration process and integrate into the community.
As we continue to respond to the refugee crisis, JFS Director of Project Kavod Rabbi Laura Rumpf reminds us that we deeply know the injustice of displacement from our Jewish DNA: “We are called on no less than 36 times throughout the Torah to identify compassionately with the stranger: ‘You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings (literally ‘the soul’) of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Exod. 23:9).”
*Alima’s name has been changed for safety purposes