When the Jewish Community Stands with Refugees

Kalyani Grad-Kaimal Image
Kalyani Grad-Kaimal
on April 6, 2017

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

Last week, I sat with hundreds of other DC Jews in the sanctuary of Adas Israel for HIAS’s #JewsforRefugees Assembly. HIAS convened this rally as a Jewish response to the Trump administration’s hateful refugee policies. Next to me was a group of J Street young leaders, brought to this HIAS event by the same Jewish and democratic values that inform their work with J Street for a two-state solution.

Together, we listened to energetic speeches from Jewish members of Congress Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-23) and Jamie Raskin (MD-8) about the importance of standing up to the politics of hate and fear.

Then we heard from a family of Syrian refugees.  The mother shared her story of coming to the US with her children and then her daughter took the mic and described the happiness she felt in her new country, the pain she felt over losing her home and homeland, and her gratitude for the people who helped her feel at home here.

I was not the only one with tears in my eyes as the daughter spoke. She was a twelve year old who left danger and fear only to find more here in the form of rhetoric and policies that tell her she is not welcome. Yet, she still joked about Trump and her new school and reminded us all that standing up for refugees, even in this time of great frustration, is critical.

Towards the end, attendees were asked to hold up the signs they made for the event. Posterboards and paper, printed and painted signs rose around the sanctuary with pictures of grandparents that had come to the US as refugees and slogans of solidarity. I raised my J Street sign, which said, “For we were once strangers too.”

Last week, I taught my second grade Sunday school class the story of Passover. We talked about how the Jews fled Egypt with the hope that they would find a new and peaceful home in the Promised Land. Next week, I will tell the same story at my family’s Passover seder. I’ll be sitting at the table with my bubbe,who I call Bubba. She was the first generation of her family born in this country after her parents fled Eastern Europe. We’ll be surrounded by close to twenty members of the family she built here.

From Egypt to Ellis Island, our Jewish ancestors knew what it meant to be strangers searching for safety. As HIAS President and CEO, Mark Hetfield says, “We once helped refugees because they were Jewish, we help them now because we are Jewish.” Today I show up in temple sanctuaries, Sunday school classrooms and demonstrations in front of the White House to ensure that every person has the chance my family did to find security, happiness and home. At events like the HIAS assembly, I am heartened to see that my Jewish community stands with me.

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