Fifth Annual Refugee Shabbat Will Be the Largest Yet

By Ayelet Parness

Rachel Levitan, HIAS vice president for international policy and relations, speaks about the significance of Refugee Shabbat this year

HIAS’ 5th Annual Refugee Shabbat, taking place in communities around the world February 3-4, promises to be the largest to date. Over 390 communities and 430 individuals from across five continents have signed up to dedicate their Shabbat to learning about the global displacement crisis and taking action on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced people.

“This is truly a global moment for a global movement,” shared Rachel Levitan, HIAS vice president for international policy and relations, in a video recorded for the occasion.

In addition to local events, HIAS will be streaming three live events around Refugee Shabbat. On Thursday, February 2, HIAS will kick off a “Welcome to Congress” campaign to encourage members of congress to take action for refugees and asylum seekers. On Friday, February 3, there will be a live streamed kabbalat shabbat service featuring Mark Hetfield, HIAS president and CEO, as the guest speaker.

“Shabbat is a day of rest, but Refugee Shabbat is a day when we commit to action — fulfilling the commandment to welcome the stranger,” said Hetfield in a statement. “We need to do more than pray for solutions, we need to work for solutions.”

Climate change is increasingly an underlying cause of forced displacement. To close out Refugee Shabbat weekend, experts in policy, emergency response, and program implementation will explore this topic and HIAS’ response in a panel on Sunday, February 5.

This year, Refugee Shabbat was planned to coincide with Shabbat Shira, when the Torah portion Beshallach is read, recounting the Israelites crossing the Red Sea during their flight from Egypt and toward freedom. This biblical depiction of displacement offers an especially poignant thematic connection for participants.

“Taking only what you can carry and running from persecution is a story that echoes throughout Jewish history, and in the stories of displaced people today,” said Levitan.

With more than 100 million people forcibly displaced around the world, the need for Refugee Shabbat is more apparent than ever. It’s not too late to sign up!

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