Small and Mighty: Utah Assembly Shows Strength and Welcome

By Sharon Samber,

The recent Jews for Refugees Assembly in Salt Lake City showed how a small but passionate group is working to change the landscape and make a difference for refugees.

On May 13 nearly 75 people gathered at the IJ & Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center to learn more about refugee issues in their local area and to raise their voice together as part of the broader American Jewish movement for refugees.

Jews for Refugees Assemblies are organized to publicly demonstrate the Jewish community’s strong support for refugees. They are equal parts community education, inspiration, and call to action. At an assembly, speakers from local Jewish institutions, HIAS, the refugee and asylum-seeker community, and local government speak to why the U.S. should remain a place of welcome for those seeking refuge from persecution and violence.

This Utah event was the fifth Jews for Refugees Assembly that HIAS has helped organize in the recent past. Previous assemblies have been in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, HIAS’ Rabbi-in-Residence, said it was incredibly moving and invigorating to see the depth of commitment in the Salt Lake City community – both in the Jewish community and across faith lines – to supporting refugees and asylum seekers.  

“We sent a clear message that the Jewish community of Salt Lake City remembers the Jewish people’s own history of searching for safety and freedom and that, rooted in that experience and their values, they stand with those seeking refuge today,” she said.

Other speakers at the event included: Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski; Rabbi Sam Spector, Congregation Kol Ami; Gerald Brown, State Refugee Coordinator at the Utah Department of Workforce Services Refugees Services Office; Christian Mower of U.S. Congressman Ben McAdams' district office; and Utah State Representative Patrice Arent.

Eric Goldman, the founder of Utah Jews for Refugees, said the refugee-serving community in Utah and Salt Lake City is very strong and welcoming. Goldman is working with other Jewish groups and trying to develop a presence that represents the Jewish community at large (and the presence seems particularly strong already, considering the entire state of Utah’s Jewish population is about 9,000).

“The Utah Assembly did expose a number of people within the Jewish community to critical information regarding the refugee crisis in the world, the danger and immorality being perpetrated by our current national government, and the good work being undertaken locally in support of refugees,” Goldman said.

Utah Jews for Refugees is a new coalition based in Salt Lake City, which is gathering support and gaining momentum. It is one of eight advocacy coalitions that HIAS supports around the country. Utah Jews for Refugees organized two National Refugee Shabbat programmatic events and works with IRC, Catholic Community Services, Utah Department of Workforce Refugee Services, and other refugee-serving organizations to offer volunteer service opportunities.

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