February 24, 2023

I recall a Sunday spring morning, some years ago, when a number of us gathered on a bus and traveled only a few miles to an apartment complex that housed Bhutanese-Nepalese refugees. We then visited a market along Morse Road that was run by Somali refugees and provided opportunities for the Somali community to shop, dine, and access services they needed. Our tour also included lunch at a Bhutanese-Nepalese restaurant and a conversation with staff from CRIS, an organization that assists with refugee resettlement. This led to a few opportunities to help welcome refugees to Central Ohio, along with a number of our B’nai Mitzvah students partnering with CRIS or US Together to provide items for families. They also contributed to collections for JFS, as the organization provided needed items to help with employment for refugees.

Such an experience is core to who we are as Jews, as these reflect moments when we can bring Torah to life. Just a week ago we read in the Torah, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers on the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9). We learn from Rabbi Jonah Pesner, that the Torah connects our experiences of slavery with a command to have empathy for all those who are least protected by society. In ancient times, the Torah identified orphans, widows, and strangers as those who were marginalized. In modern times, this command extends to all those who are marginalized. We also learn from Rabbi Pesner that the command in the Torah is not to tolerate or protect the stranger, but rather to go further and love or embrace the stranger.

In the last two weeks, two opportunities to fulfill this mitzvah have come to my attention. First, HIAS is now partnering with Jewish Family Services of Columbus to welcome and resettle refugees in Central Ohio. They need an extensive group of volunteers who are willing to help drive, set up apartments, create welcome kits, and donate hygiene items. While we had hoped to actively sponsor a refugee family last year, we were unable to move forward on that project. This is another opportunity to try to engage in the sacred work of welcoming refugees to Central Ohio, help get them settled, and provide an opportunity to welcome them to their new home.

Additionally, I learned that a group in Worthington is working with English Language Learners to create conversational tables to help those who need to learn English. Worthington Interfaith Neighbors is leading this effort with the goal of creating conversation partners around topics that are relevant to people’s lives including health and medicine, banking, schools, food shopping, and more. The sessions will take place alternating Tuesdays over a few months between 10:30 AM and 12 PM. Both fliers will be included in this email below, if you are interested in being part of either of these projects, please contact those listed on the fliers. I hope you will consider finding a way to volunteer to support and welcome refugees to Central Ohio.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Rick Kellner