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The compassionate call to action by the JCRC of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond

These five children in the Pardes family and their parents escaped from Afghanistan in December 2021. They relocated eventually to Richmond and with the help of Congregation Beth Ahabah volunteers, they settled into a home in Richmond.

By Basya Gartenstein, Director,  Jewish Community Relations Committee, JCFR

In response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond (JCFR) embarked on a mission to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees with $25,000 of support from a Shapiro Grant provided through the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

Driven by the desire to treat those in desperate and dire circumstances in the manner we demand our society to treat vulnerability of the Jewish community, the JCRC extended a hand to those fleeing persecution and violence, ensuring they find support and stability in our community.

In this article, we explore the reasons behind this vital endeavor and shed light on the profound impact our efforts can have on the lives of these displaced individuals.

The recent swift takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban regime triggered a dire humanitarian crisis, plunging countless Afghans into fear, uncertainty, and imminent danger. To escape repression, and violence, thousands sought refuge in countries around the world.

Call to Action

JFNA and the JCRC view the refugee crisis as a call to action. The history of the Jewish people, marred by persecution and displacement, nurtures an empathetic understanding of the struggles endured by refugees.

The JCRC recognizes the moral imperative of aiding those in need. Applying the enduring Jewish value of repairing the world and nurturing social justice, the JCRC partnered with Temple Beth-El, Congregation Or Ami, Congregation Beth Ahabah, and Congregation Or Atid, forming a resettlement committee that provides a supportive environment for Afghan refugees to rebuild their lives and instill a sense of hope for their future.

Thank You

We thank those who continue to devote their hearts, abilities, and time to supporting this process: Marilyn Breslow of Ori Ami; Jonathan and Claudette Lewis and Julie Mullian of the Brith Olam committee at Beth Ahabah;  Sue Geller, Barry Green and Tommi Rubin of Or Atid,  and Ben Lewis, Hedy Lapkin and Marci Linas of Beth-El. This is not an exhaustive list of the countless community members who have mobilized in times of need to provide critical support.

These committee volunteers actively collaborated with local organizations specializing in housing, education, employment, and medical assistance, ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place to address the multifaceted needs of those seeking refuge – from getting proper furniture and transport to developing English as a Second Language Skills and advocating for children of these families in schools.

JFS & Islamic Center of Virginia

Jewish Family Services (JFS) played an essential role in this process and we thank them for their tireless leadership and partnership in our efforts.

Beyond providing logistical support, the committee representatives from our synagogues forged genuine human connection.

We are grateful to the Islamic Center of Virginia for supporting these individuals as well and working closely with our synagogue members to ensure the best interest of the families that are joining our community.

These community-wide efforts across non-profits, synagogues, mosques, and churches enable community members to foster meaningful connections and inclusive integration for these incoming families.

Bonds Formed

Most striking are the bonds formed between those who volunteered – the resettlement committee of JCRC and the leadership at our local mosque have learned about one another while taking action toward our common values.

Recognizing that access to education, employment, and healthcare is crucial for successful integration, the JCRC advocates for policies and programs that facilitate the resettlement process for both Ukrainian and Afghan refugees.

Efforts include strategic meetings with Congressman Rob Wittman and Senator Tim Kaine that took place in 2023. Working with all elected officials, the JCRC strives to ensure the availability of necessary resources and support mechanisms for refugees, allowing them to rebuild their lives and contribute positively to the fabric of our community.

The story you have read is far from an isolated experience. JCFR, JCRC, and JFNA have been resettling Ukrainian refugees in astounding numbers since early 2022 and have served in this role in the past.

Hedy Lapkin was nostalgic about her memories of resettlement efforts more than 45 years ago. JCFR has always mobilized to support those most in need and cherishes the opportunity to continue to do so.

Through collaboration, education, and advocacy, we are working together to create an inclusive society that values the dignity and rights of the most vulnerable among us.

By empowering Afghan (and Ukrainian) refugees to thrive, we actively affirm the Jewish belief in the fundamental worth and potential of every individual.

The most common challenge is supporting English language exposure and tutoring, storage space for furniture and household goods for these families prior to settling them in homes, and friendships for their children (elementary and middle school age).

If getting involved in these efforts speaks to you, please reach out to the JCRC Director Basya Gartenstein at  bgartenstein@jewishrichmond.org.