By Margaret Hinson, Special to the Jewish Sound
June 20 is World Refugee Day and a fitting time to consider our community’s ongoing commitment to refugee resettlement. Jewish Family Service was originally founded to help Jews resettling in Seattle, and more specifically to help Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms — the 19th-century name for violent persecution directed at a group because of its religious beliefs or ethnicity.
In the 21st century, violent persecution and targeting of religious minorities remain global plagues that show no signs of abating. We know from the Jewish people’s history that refugees do not leave home simply because life is difficult. Instead, refugees are people who are forced to flee because their lives are in danger simply for being who they are. Worldwide today, 15 million men, women and children have official refugee status.
JFS is proud to be part of the resettlement effort that has helped make the Seattle-area home to a thriving community of former refugees from Iran who are of the Baha’i faith. The Baha’i have been, and continue to be, targeted by the Iranian government solely based on their religious beliefs and practices. In partnership with HIAS, our JFS community welcomes theses vulnerable strangers and helps them to rebuild their lives in safety and freedom. When we open our collective arms to the Iranian Baha’i — and to those fleeing persecution in countries like China, Burma, Bhutan and Iraq — we commit to support that includes help with housing, job placement, acculturation and access to immigration services.
The Jewish narrative is a powerful tool for understanding the challenges refugees experience when they arrive in the U.S. and as they strive to establish new lives. Their stories are our stories. The Jewish community knows from its own history that refugees are resilient and will soon make tremendous contributions to the neighborhoods and to the nation that they now call “home.”
In honor of World Refugee Day, guided by Jewish values and in solidarity with the epic journeys of the Jewish people, please let your elected officials know that you welcome and support those who cannot return to their original homes. Contact your U.S. representative and senators and encourage them to support the Refugee Protection Act of 2013 (S. 645/H.R. 1365), which seeks to ensure that the U.S. upholds its commitment to protecting refugees, asylum seekers, children and other vulnerable migrants who seek safety in the United States of America.
Margaret Hinson is the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Service Centers for Jewish Family Service.