At the start of 2023, thanks to Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Bellingham, WA, we were privileged to receive an in-kind donation of needed household items to help set up incoming refugees for success in their new homes, in their new country. We are so grateful for the support we receive from congregations like Beth Israel and wanted to hear more about what inspires them to give in this way. We spoke with Linda Blackwell, CBI Social Action Chair to talk about the Bellingham Jewish community, the importance of helping incoming refugees, and tikkun olam.
Hi, Linda. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! Please tell us a little bit about Congregation Beth Israel and the Bellingham Jewish community.
Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) is one of the oldest synagogues in Western Washington and has served Bellingham’s tightknit Jewish community since we were founded in 1908 primarily by Lithuanian immigrants coming to the shores of the far western United States [Editor’s note: Bellingham is a coastal city in Northwest Washington State]. Beth Israel is very welcoming and strives to accommodate the diversity of our membership, providing worship and study that is both meaningful and comfortable to Jews from a wide variety of backgrounds.
How did you learn about the work JFS does to welcome and resettle refugees from all over the world?
CBI did a similar drive for refugee donations in 2017 with JFS! The social action committee at CBI has a commitment to work with local agencies when possible. I personally receive email updates and have connected with JFS about participating in projects.
What moved Congregation Beth Israel to gather household items for our Refugee & Immigrant Services program?
We are a smaller congregation of 250 families, and many are very interested in refugee resettlement. The members want to help refugees but do not have the resources to “adopt” a family. We will likely support a local agency in Whatcom County where Bellingham is located in 2023 because we are invested in supporting refugees throughout our state.
Why do you think it’s so important for the Jewish community to support refugees and immigrants?
The Torah readings that guide and compel Jewish people to treat strangers as we would like to be treated requires that we work to create opportunities for refugees, including those who need asylum. We have a responsibility, as Jews, to offer kindness and assistance to families fleeing war and oppression. It is essential for our spiritual growth.
In your own words, what does tikkun olam mean to you?
I do not think these are my own words, but I take the more humanistic view that it means to “repair the world”. It is a call to social justice. I am very proud of the wide participation of our community, the board, and many anonymous donors at Congregation Beth Israel.
Thank you to Linda and the entire Congregation Beth Israel community in Bellingham, WA for your dedication to supporting refugees and immigrants in our state and your commitment to tikkun olam. If you and/or your synagogue would like to get involved, please visit our website or reach out to Director of JFS Community Connections, Leslie Sugiura!