Several years ago, the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR) helped to resettle in New Haven a Syrian refugee named Issa and his family.
Now, six years later, JCARR is celebrating its sixth anniversary with the resettlement of its sixth refugee family, in collaboration with its sixth synagogue, Temple Beth David of Cheshire.
And that family just happens to be Issa’s mother and two adult siblings.
Today, Issar’s entire family feels at home in New Haven, thanks to JCARR and its co-sponsor, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS).
JCARR was formed in 2015, a coming-together of five area synagogues — Beth-El-Keser Israel (Westville), Temple Emanuel (Orange), Congregation Mishkan Israel (Hamden), Congregation B’nai Jacob (Woodbridge), and Congregation Or Shalom (Orange) — and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. The group is designed to sponsor and assist refugee families new to the area. While local synagogues have historically assisted with refugee resettlement, this was the first organization in which synagogues partnered to co-sponsor arriving families with IRIS.
Among JCARR’s responsibilities: secure housing, furniture and household necessities, enroll adults in English as a Second Language classes, help find employment, assist with expenses and much more, all with the goal of enabling the family to become self-reliant.
“[JCARR] became a Jewish community’s response to the refugee crisis, even if it didn’t start out that way,” said Rabbi Michael Farbman, spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Orange. “IRIS was looking for community sponsors, and the Jews in the room looked at each other and said, ‘how can we help?’”
Since its founding, JCARR has resettled more families than any other co-sponsor in the state, thanks to donations and a coterie of volunteers of all ages who stand ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice. For example, Jean Silk, JCARR’s coordinator, when the apartment that Issar’s mother and brother were set to move into needed to be readied within two days, Silk put out a last-minute call for volunteers…and more than two dozen showed up.
One JCARR volunteer is Kris Oser, who moved to Connecticut from New York in 2020. A new member of Temple Emanuel, Oser reached out to Rabbi Farbman when she heard of JCARR. He put her in touch with Silk, and she quickly became one of the organization’s most active volunteers.
“JCARR allows me to live my Judaism,” explains Oser, who now serves as the Household Task Force Coordinator, where she is responsible for setting up the family’s new home. Susan Millen of Congregation Mishkan Israel has volunteered with JCARR since its founding.
“JCARR is all about welcoming the stranger. Caring about not just yourself, but the community,” she says. “There is so much negativity in our world. People are clamoring for something positive and meaningful. This is, for so many people, exactly that.”
For many refugees, the volunteer is their “first point of interaction,” says Rabbi Farbman. “You have to understand the profound trauma that these people have experienced,” he says. “It’s up to us; what’s going to be their first experience when they get off that bus?”
To learn more about JCARR, to make a donation or volunteer, visit www.jewishnewhaven/refugee-resettlement.