Category Archives: The Friday Blog

The SS Zeeland and the State Budget

This Friday, a message from Director of Government Affairs Aaron Agulnek. 

I recently received an old government document with notations written in cursive that I could not quite decipher, along with a yellowed photograph depicting a ship, reminiscent of the Titanic, but nowhere near as grand. Entitled, “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States,” the document included the names of passengers sailing from Antwerp and arriving in New York City on December 6th, 1911. On line 21 was an entry I made out to be “Zunke Goldberg,” age three, who apparently traveled with a four-year-old sibling and her mother. Zunke, or Celia as I knew her, was my late grandmother, and the photo was the ship that brought her and her family to America: the SS Zeeland.

I remember asking her as a little kid to share the experience with me. She seemed like a superhero to me, but I could not really comprehend the details: she fled her homeland; traveled in steerage; met a “stranger” who took her away on the crowded hectic docks (her father who she hadn’t seen in a year and could not remember); and began life in a new land. She talked about the struggles of poverty, antisemitism, and nationalism; some of the very same challenges facing today’s freedom-seekers from different lands.

But it was not just the challenges that she shared. She also spoke about the role of community, about the social service networks who supported her and her family: the community activists from all walks of life, the politicians and public servants who cared deeply for her family and their neighbors while they struggled to get a toehold. It was those stories that brought me to JCRC, where I could play a role to develop a robust social service network that buoys the immigrant, the unemployed, the senior, and the impoverished.  

A few weeks ago, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Massachusetts State Budget, with JCRC’s imprint and values firmly affixed. This was a historic budget for our community, one that increased the public investment in our priorities to $8 million, while recognizing the value of partnership, community, and shared humanity.

Here are some of the quick highlights:

Job Training & Education

  • $1,250,000 for the Employment Service Program for Immigrants and Refugees, which provides English-based job training and placement services for recent immigrants and refugees.
  • $250,000 for Transitions to Work, an innovative job training model for young adults with disabilities.
  • $500,000 for Bridges to College, which provides college prep to individuals seeking careers with opportunities for advancement. The budget also included a $250,000 earmark for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to expand its innovative programming.
  • Continuity funding for the MA Pathways to Economic Advancement Initiative, which will increase employment opportunities for limited English speakers and help them progress up the economic ladder by providing workforce development services.

Seniors

  • $856,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), to bring wellness programs and socialization services directly to seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.

Combatting Hatred

  • $500,000 for the Non-Profit Security Grants, a pilot which provides vital security enhancements to Jewish communal infrastructure at increased risk of threat.

Anti-Poverty

  • $2,000,000 for the Secure Jobs Initiative, for homeless families to increase their level of economic self-sufficiency.

These programs and initiatives are, in part, the manifestations of our traditions and values operating in a pluralistic society. We never forget that we were once strangers in a strange land, and we know that we all thrive when today’s strangers are provided the same opportunities that helped us integrate and succeed in this country. It is vitally important for us to remember our past, while pushing for a better future for all.

Seeing the photo of the very ship which carried my grandmother to safety in America provided me with a newfound perspective about why people sacrifice everything they know for freedom. My family crossed a vast ocean, with their most precious cargo, their 3-year-old daughter, packed into the overcrowded, dark, and damp steerage, to escape to a foreign land. They took this unfathomable risk, believing in their family’s future in their adopted land—a dream now realized through me and my own children. We will honor their sacrifice, and those who are like them today, by fighting for justice and opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron

 

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.”

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.”

August 9, 2019

NAHMA NADICH

A message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich:

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.” I heard these prescient words from Lucia Panichella of Jewish Family Service Metrowest in an orientation session for a CJP Women’s Philanthropy Mission to San Diego. The mission’s purpose was to learn about and volunteer in local Jewish community efforts to support newly arrived immigrants. During the orientation, my fellow travelers and I were advised on what to expect and how best to serve these traumatized and presumably compromised people. After spending this past weekend with them, we now appreciate the truth of Lucia’s words.

Standing with immigrants at risk is not new for us. In January 2017, in response to what we regarded at the time as draconian Executive Orders targeting immigrants and refugees, we issued a communal joint statement signed by many Boston-area synagogues and Jewish organizations. We urged the administration to “open the gates of compassion to those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.” And we publicly committed ourselves to the “work of protecting and advancing the dignity of all human beings and to preventing suffering...” JCRC and CJP have taken our 2017 commitments seriously, devoting time, resources, and energy to develop a range of responses to the emerging crisis (see box on right).

But you know how this story unfolded. The gates of compassion have remained shut tight, and suffering has been inflicted on our foreign-born neighbors in ways we never could have anticipated. Family separations. Children in cages. Detention centers with reprehensible conditions. Hate speech that strips people of their basic humanity, and this week, the largest massacre aimed at the Latino community, reportedly motivated by that rhetoric. And just yesterday — the largest immigration raid in over a decade, with 680 low-wage workers taken from food processing plants, leaving their crying children waiting to be picked up from school.

So, we headed to the border town of San Diego to learn and to act. This mighty group of 25 women — volunteers and staff from CJP, JCRC, and Jewish Family Service Metrowest — first met with legal and social service experts in the field. What we learned from the experts confirmed recent news reports; the ever-growing numbers of children separated from their families now younger and more frequently female, the devastating impact of the so called “Migrant Protection Program,” requiring immigrants fleeing the danger of their home countries to remain in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings. The lawyer who spoke with our group characterized this as a violation of international treaties that the US has signed, since there is no longer any viable way to apply for asylum from certain countries. The vise is tightening on immigrants seeking a pathway to safety and freedom.

Yet with all the invaluable information we learned from professionals in the field, our most profound learning came from encounters with the immigrants themselves at the Jewish Family Service Shelter of San Diego.

Since 2017…

JCRC harnessed the passion of our community to create an interfaith coalition, engaging people to provide support to undocumented immigrants seeking Sanctuary in churches, accompany immigrants to court hearings, provide legal services, raise funds to bond people out of detention and most recently, to house individuals and families post-detention.

CJP established a Legal Aid Fund for Immigrants in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, enabling the agency to double the size of their legal team for refugees and immigrants who have a legal path to citizenship. And in response to the crisis of family separation, CJP collaborated with the The Young Center and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to launch a Fund for Detained Children, with the mission of providing advocacy and legal support for children in detention.

This Jewish community responded to the border crisis with breathtaking generosity, joining with others to open a shelter for immigrants newly released from detention and on their way to reunions with family throughout the country. Now in its sixth location (an old court house slated for demolition), the shelter has served 15,000 individuals since 2018. Staffed by a highly competent and deeply compassionate staff, this is a facility that operates in an astonishingly nimble way, never knowing how many people they will house (anywhere from 50-200), what languages they’ll speak, or what unique challenges they’ll present. All who enter are greeted with love, fed hot food, given medical attention, supported in contacting their relatives, and prepared for travel. The institutional setting is camouflaged by an array of colorful artwork and decorations.

We did our part — sorting donated clothes, painting walls, sanitizing toys, and serving food. And in three short days, we gained a deeper understanding about who these travelers were, the challenges they face, and the unimaginable resilience they exhibit throughout.

During our orientation at the shelter we asked the staff, “What happens when someone departing here misses a connection and doesn’t make it to their destination?” The staff member paused to think before responding, “It hasn’t happened yet.” We realized that these people, with their seemingly infinite wells of courage and resourcefulness, had already endured grueling hardship and navigated their way to this shelter to provide safety for their families. Traveling hours and sometimes days, on multiple buses, in a country where they don’t speak the language, would not stop them now.

Observing these guests (how they are known at the shelter) inspired endless admiration. The ubiquitous ankle monitors on the adults were cruel reminders that our country has criminalized these people for doing what any parent would do: preserve their children’s lives. In acts of fierce and quiet resistance, they retained their dignity in the face of attempts to dehumanize them and their families.

One mother cradled her 15-day-old infant in her arms as she tended lovingly to her four older children, each expertly coiffed and groomed. Her children —as so many others we met — were sweet, friendly, joyful, and exuberant. At their parents’ gentle prodding, they came up to us after every meal and smilingly thanked us (in English!) for the food.

Despite their insurmountable hardships, these determined parents were acting with agency whenever and wherever they could, not just ensuring their children’s safety, but raising them with values passed down through generations. As a result, their children, against all odds, were playful and trusting—by the end, sitting on our laps, playing games and reading books, and transcending any language barrier among us.

IMG_5704
IMG_5295
Ankle monitor
zR6uTAJQ

Lucia was so right. We left in amazement at the strength of the people we met. We were reminded that kindness and compassion do in fact exist, and that they are powerful antidotes to cruelty and abuse. We were filled with pride seeing a Jewish community do the impossible; taking a leap of faith to address a crisis of epic proportions, with no road map and no real plan. We saw this community change people’s lives and were privileged to be part of the story—as we are now inspired to take further action here in Boston.

There are immigrants right here in Boston fighting to stay with their families who have reached out for support. Volunteer to accompany them to court. Be part of a housing network to welcome them when they are released from detention. Advocate for passage of the Work and Family Mobility Act, allowing access to drivers licenses regardless of immigration status and the Safe Communities Act, supporting the civil liberties of all people in the Commonwealth.

Click here to receive action alerts on these opportunities.

Heed the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging on the walls of the shelter:

Si ayudo a una sola persona a tener esperanza, no habré vido en vano.

If I help only one person to have hope, I won’t have lived in vain.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma