Local synagogue helping refugees of all faiths this season

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. -- Light is a theme woven into the Jewish faith. Not only in the candles that burn throughout Hanukkah, but in the belief that it’s your responsibly to share your light with the world.

“Part of the definition of being a Jew is to perform acts of kindness like this,” said Celie Brown, seated next to her granddaughter, Mira.

“It’s exciting to see so many members of my community so eager to help,” Mira added.

The family duo is helping to spearhead a campaign at their synagogue on Mercer Island to spread a little light to refugees of all faiths this season.

“They wanted to help,” said Rabbi Will Berkovitz of Jewish Family Service of Seattle, which partnered with Celie, Mira, and Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation to provide home necessities and other items to recently resettled refugees. “They wanted to help in a way that was meaningful.”

Jewish Family Service of Seattle assists refugees from around the world – including those from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. While Rabbi Berkovitz said they flee their countries for different reasons, including war and religious persecution, they all have one thing in common when they arrive in the United States: they come here with almost nothing.

“Imagine getting dropped off with your family in some country where you don’t speak the language, you’ve just left a refugee camp and been fleeing war and persecution,” he said. “The next thing you know you’re in a totally new world.”

With the help of the congregation at Herzl-Ner Tamid, refugees arriving in the U.S. and settling in Western Washington will receive items to help them restart their lives.

“Some of them are asking for one pot, or one bedspread,” said Celie Brown. “We have a whole community ready to give. We have some families that have taken two and three families already that they’re buying for.”

Herzl-Ner Tamid Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum said while the refugees they’ll help this season are not Jewish, they share a common experience with those who are.

“We have known the experience of being a stranger,” he said. “And we know how painful that is. We want to be sure that nobody, no human being ever has that pain in their own country or any other country. So wherever we are, we feel it’s very important to fight for the rights of the outsider and to make people feel at home.”

Rabbi Berkovitz said it’s a sentiment that extends to persons of all faiths and backgrounds.

“I think it just goes to seeing our humanity,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day that I come from here, you come from there. If we can just sit and be more empathetic to each other, if we can just recognize the baseline humanity that we all share … that’s what this is all about.”

To learn more about how you can help Herzl-Ner Tamid and Jewish Family Services of Seattle make life in the United States a little easier for refugee families, email refugees@h-nt.org.