New York Jewish Communities Get Resourceful for Refugees

By Gabe Cahn,

Last year saw the number of people worldwide forced from their homes by war and persecution balloon to over 65 million, including millions fleeing the horrific conflict in Syria. As the need for urgent refugee assistance grew, so did the Jewish community’s grassroots efforts to help welcome and protect the most vulnerable refugees.

Feeling compelled to respond in a meaningful way to the global refugee crisis, the Jewish Congregation of New Paltz set up a Syrian Refugee Relief Committee to help spread awareness about displacement resulting from the brutal civil war in Syria and to encourage action.

The committee created a short video with powerful clips, images, and facts and figures related to the refugee crisis, as part of a broader effort to solicit donations for HIAS, eventually raising more than $16,000. JCNP presented HIAS Vice President for External Affairs Riva Silverman with a symbolic check to celebrate the success of the effort.

“These kinds of awareness-raising efforts are such an important piece of creating a welcoming environment for refugees in this country,” said Silverman. “Especially now, the American Jewish community’s ability to send a message of support for refugees is critical, and we’ve really seen a robust response from local communities coming together.”

The fundraiser in New Paltz is part of a broader pattern of American Jews getting resourceful to assist refugees. Indeed, just a 90-minute drive away, another local community in New York found a creative—and tasty—way to get involved.

“I love to cook, I love to entertain, I was curious to learn about Syrian cuisine, and I want to help refugees in need,” said Larchmont, N.Y. resident Herb Leventer.

From this simple premise, Leventer leveraged his passion to raise more than $3,500 to support HIAS’ Syrian refugee resettlement efforts.

After reading about Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi and other celebrity chefs in England holding supper clubs, charity bakes, cooking demos and restaurant dinners to benefit UNICEF UK’s Children of Syria Fund, Leventer decided to give it a try in his own community. An observant Jew, Leventer hosted a strictly kosher, mostly vegetarian, version of the London chefs’ campaign at his home on December 18 for nearly 20 friends and social activists from his Mamaroneck synagogue.

Following several weeks of research, ingredient-gathering and taste-testing with his wife Dvora Rabino, the meal featured a menu of roughly two dozen authentically Syrian dishes including mezzes, dips, soups, entrees and desserts. Leventer’s hope is that his idea will spark a movement by others who share his passions, and he noted the additional benefit of being able to welcome any Syrian refugees resettled in his community “with a dish or two of food from their homeland.”

These are just two recent examples of individuals and communities working to make a difference in the lives of refugees. Whether raising awareness through video, or mastering the cuisine of refugee populations, supporters and advocates are finding new ways to welcome and support refugees. That support is very much needed.

To learn more about local efforts taking place around the country on behalf of refugees, follow HIAS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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