June 2022 Bulletin ref4

A SOCIAL ACTION/SOCIAL JUSTICE ESSAY by Hayden Schwartz

(Editor’s Note: Delivered by Hayden at the April 29 Social Action/Social Justice Shabbat)

Thank you for being here tonight. When I first agreed to write something for this special service, I had some semblance of concepts I would speak on, but I could not have foreseen what would come to fruition in my life in the coming weeks to change my perspectives. I had an idealized sense of what the refugee and immigration system operated like when I first took this on. However, it wasn’t until volunteering with the incoming flux of refugees in this area that I truly began to grasp the dire struggle of refugees, “asylees” and special “parolees,” which are non-citizens who have been granted temporary status, that have been made to flee from everything they have ever known. The global refugee crisis is real, and it surrounds all of us. We, even just human to human, cannot sit idly and turn the other way while our neighbors struggle to feed their children, endure survival with minimal resources and try to navigate an entirely different world and culture, much less while not knowing the colloquial languages.

There are two fundamental aspects of Judaism that I hold very close to my heart: the practices of tzedakah, justice or charity; and the overarching concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Tzedakah is an especially significant principle in Judaism, because it requires us to go beyond just giving charity – it is a direct act of social justice, and we are required to share empathy, compassion and dignity with those whom we are helping. Judaism teaches us that the donor benefits just as much from the act of tzedakah as the recipient, as this is a way in which the donor receives the merit of doing pious work. In Maimonides’ words, “Whoever gives tzedakah to the poor with a sour expression and in a surly manner, even if they give a thousand gold pieces, loses their merit. One should instead give cheerfully and joyfully and empathize with them in their sorrow.”

To tie these things together, I want to draw upon the collective history of many of the people in this room, as being a product of both modern day and historical diaspora. One of the questions being proposed tonight is how the current refugees landing in Albany arrived here of all places, but can we not ask the same question of ourselves? How did a bunch of descendants of the Levant arrive in whatever multicultural soups Eastern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and Northern African nations were in the 19th century, create entirely new ethnic cultures, and now, 200 years later, we ended up in the middle of upstate New York, ever changing and reforming how we see ourselves in relation to the world? Many of our grandparents did not necessarily come here to open arms; our names were anglicized, our ethnic identities stripped down to become “naturalized” citizens. We were subjected to discrimination and subhuman levels of subsistence. During the darkest hours of the Shoah, many of our ancestors fleeing pure terror were turned away from countless nations, and the effects of the horrors of genocide ripped through the entire fabric of humanity. Should we follow in the footsteps of the people that refused to warmly welcome us when we were strangers?

I am calling on my family of congregants at B’nai Sholom: how do you wish to change the world? We can begin in our own backyards, supporting the people around us. A community is nothing without people coming together for the greater good of humanity at large. We can simultaneously think globally while acting locally. By working together alongside refugees and asylees, we can at once reflect on how we relate to the world around us, while also growing and strengthening the bonds we share through our collective trials and tribulations. All human beings deserve to feel and be dignified, regardless of creed, color, sexuality, gender expression, culture or any other differentiating aspect that makes it possible for us to “other” another group of people. There are so many different and even seemingly insignificant ways in which we can act; the first step is asking how to be of service.

HOW TO BE OF SERVICE

USCRI:  United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

99 Pine, Suite 101, Albany   refugees.org   518-459-1790

–Good Neighbor Team Program (help a refugee family transition to their new lives and achieve self-sufficiency)

Contact Margaret Slotnick, Community Sponsorship Coordinator mslotnick@uscri-albany.org

–Volunteer   contact info@uscri-albany.org and indicate field of interest:

mentorship                            legal               transportation                       teaching

administration/office            youth              technical support                 home set-up

RISSE:  Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus

715 Morris St., Albany   518-621-1041    volunteer@risse-albany.org

MSKP:  Muslim Soup Kitchen Project (collection center supporting all in need)

350 Troy Schenectady Rd., Latham   518-608-1255

Open:  Tuesdays  10:00 am – noon and 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Saturdays  10:00 am – noon

Collecting:

Kitchenware (large pots, pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, towels, potholders)

Household essentials (cleaners, sponges, paper towels, garbage bags, detergent

etc.)

Bathroom supplies (towels, bathmats, shower curtains and rings, TP and tissue)

School supplies

Personal hygiene products

***Furniture and toys:   CALL TO CHECK ABOUT CURRENT NEED

PLEASE:  no TVs, VCRs or tapes, electronics or household knick-knacks and decorative items

B'nai Sholom Albany NY