By Jean Silk
Jewish Community Relations Council Refugee Settlement Coordinator
On Thursday, Jan. 26, JCARR welcomed a new refugee family from Syria. The normal anticipation and anxiety we feel in awaiting the family’s arrival—this was our third family over the past 12 months—was heightened by the announcement of a proposed Executive Order that would halt refugee entry into the U.S. for 120 days, and would cease the admittance of nationals of Syria.
We knew that morning that the family had boarded their plane in Istanbul and that they would land at JFK Airport around noon. We didn’t know if they would be met in immigration and prevented from entering the U.S. So, we waited, with heavy apprehension on top of the normal anxiety.
When I received the phone call from the International Migration officer telling me the family of five was leaving JFK for New Haven, I couldn’t wait to share the good news. Although the family seemed happy when we settled them into their new home, the truth is they also looked very tired. The mother explained they hadn’t slept in a bed for 50 hours. The three young children seemed anxious, needy, and the parents were doing everything possible to calm them, to reassure them, to give them what they needed to feel at peace.
Over the next weeks, JCARR volunteers provided needed clothing in the right sizes for each member of the family, familiar foods, toys and games for the children, and other household necessities. Our Cultural Orientation task force began the process of orienting them to their neighborhood and their new community; volunteers took them to a park, the library and the grocery store; we helped them apply for Social Security Cards, Cash Assistance and food stamps; we helped enroll the children in school and the adults in ESL classes. Medical appointments were made and transportation provided. We introduced them to the other Syrian family we welcomed on Nov. 8, 2016, the day of the Presidential election. Little by little, our new family is settling into their home in Hamden.
On Friday, Jan. 27, the day after our family’s arrival, President Trump signed an Executive Order banning Syrian refugees and halting the admittance of refugees from six other countries. Our family is one of the last Syrian families to have made it to safety to the U.S. before the order took effect. The Executive Order has led to grief, confusion, protests and fear about the future of immigration, and, in particular, concerns about the refugee resettlement program in the U.S. The Executive Order, and the subsequent outpouring of support for refugees at rallies and vigils in New Haven and around the country, only reinforces JCARR’s commitment to work for and with refugees. The concept of tikkun olam tells us to search for a tiny spark of divine light, one small thing we can do to make the world better. In this time when we might feel overwhelmed by chaos, the people involved with JCARR find that divine light in the eyes of the refugee children and the love their parents show for them. Doing what we can to help them build a new life here helps to soothe our fears and offers us hope for repair of the world. The Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR) is a collaboration between Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, Congregation B’nai Jacob, Congregation Mishkan Israel, Congregation Or Shalom, and Temple Emanuel local to co-sponsor refugee families who are new to the New Haven area. The Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven supports the work of JCARR.