Getting Involved: How You Can Help Refugees

Project Chair:

Peter Schnall

We are helping one refugee family today. But the global crisis calls for much more. There’s a lot you can do to make a difference.

We are in a global crisis. Over 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, mostly in the Middle East and Africa. Since World War II, there have never been more people seeking refuge away from their homes. Many refugees would go home if they could. But in the meantime, they seek safety and opportunity for their children—just like us.

Modern Jews began helping refugees 135 years ago. In 1881, a group of Jews in New York City formed the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, now known as HIAS, to help Jews fleeing the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. For its first 100 years, HIAS helped Jews escape oppression around the world and resettle in friendly countries. Starting with the crisis at the end of the Vietnamese War, HIAS began to help resettle non-Jews. Today, HIAS has expanded its mission to help refugees anywhere in the world who are in danger because of who they are. As Mark Hetfield, HIAS’s CEO, said: “We used to help refugees because they were Jews. Today we help refugees because we are Jews.” At Temple Rodef Shalom, we share HIAS’s vision.

syrian dinner logoThe Torah commands “When a stranger resides with you in your land… shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus, 19:33-34). TRS has been living that commandment since its early years. In the 1980s, TRS stepped up to help resettle Vietnamese families. Today, we are stepping up to help families from the Middle East and Africa—or wherever today’s refugees find themselves.

Here are some ways to get involved.

1)     Volunteer to help the Temple’s “adopted” refugee family. The Temple is working closely with a single mom and her twin, 12-year-old boys who escaped persecution in Iran.  Our volunteers are supporting the family in many ways including:  orienting the family to public transportation, going on fun outings around the area, helping with computer skills, and tutoring.

If you are interested in helping or would like more information, contact the chair of the committee.

2)     Work on Advocacy. While the United States welcomes more refugees year after year than any other developed nation, we can do more. We are learning firsthand, through helping our “adopted” family, about the obstacles that all refugee families face once here in the U.S. We can do our part to fight xenophobia, fear, and policy impediments that can make life difficult for newly arrived refugees.  The Religious Action Center ( and HIAS ( alert us to actions we can take on the national front to protect the rights of refugees. Local interfaith coalitions have initiatives directed at the state and local levels to ensure just treatment of refugees.

For more information, contact Karen Menichelli, email.

3)     Help collect furniture and supplies for newly arrived families. The Temple has been working closely with Lutheran Social Services (one of nine resettlement organizations that contract with the State Department to resettle refugees, and one of two that work in Northern Virginia) to resettle our “adopted” family. But our family represents only three of the over 1,000 refugees LSS will resettle in Virginia and Maryland this year. They could all benefit from our help.

If you are interested in coordinating this project (or are interested in helping after we’ve found a coordinator), contact the chair of the committee.

4)     Mentor or tutor refugees and their children. This is another project where you would work with LSS to help some of the many families that they work with in Virginia and Maryland.

If you are interested in coordinating this project (or are interested in helping after we’ve found a coordinator), contact the chair of the committee.

If you have other ideas or passions, please let us know. The crisis is big and we want to help our congregation do its part while also building our sacred community.