Refugee families sponsored by two North Shore synagogues arrived in Chicago despite concerns they would be in limbo due to the presidential order to suspend the U.S. refugee resettlement program signed on January 27.
Congregants of Am Shalom in Glencoe greeted a Syrian family of four at O’Hare National Airport on January 27. The refugee family arrived an hour before the order was signed by the president. Rabbi Steven Lowenstein said the congregation partnered with RefugeeOne, a refugee resettlement organization, in sponsoring the Syrian family. The family had been living in a refugee camp in Aleppo for five or six years, he said.
While RefugeeOne took care of the larger details — the organization identified the refugee family for sponsorship and completed the necessary work to bring them to the U.S. — Am Shalom raised funds and fully furnished an apartment for the family. Moving forward, volunteers will help the family get settled by tutoring and helping with various aspects of daily life such as grocery shopping, traveling, navigating the trains and using an ATM card.
“This is what we believe — welcoming the stranger— and we live by the commands of the Torah everyday,” Rabbi Lowenstein said.
Likewise, Temple Jeremiah in Northfield sponsored two sisters who were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and had been living in Zambia as refugees for the past 18 years. Since September, Temple Jeremiah worked with HIAS Chicago, a refugee resettlement agency. While congregants were expecting a month to prepare for a refugee family’s arrival, on Jan. 24 they were told by HIAS that the sisters would be arriving in one week.
Barb Miller, Temple Jeremiah’s executive vice president, said volunteers worked diligently to prepare for the sisters in that short period of time. Like Am Shalom, they fully furnished and apartment and have committed to helping the sisters fully settle into U.S. society. Dozens of volunteers have been trained and vetted and the synagogue partnered with Saint Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette to raise funds to pay the sisters’ rent and security deposit.
When President Donald Trump signed the executive order on January 27, the congregants were concerned the sisters would not be allowed to travel to Chicago. As it turns out, the sisters were considered in-transit and were ultimately allowed into the country. “They will most likely be among the last immigrants to make it to the United States during the suspension,” Miller said.
“We took this on because the Torah teaches us to love the stranger. This is our mission,” Miller said.