At the heart of each of the major world religions and ingrained in the teaching of many of the “minor” traditions, there is an instruction to welcome the stranger. Following this mandate has never been more important than now. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of 2021, “89.3 million individuals worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order.”
This global crisis is playing out here among us. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 14,000 Ukrainians have resettled in New York State with 2,111 of them coming to Long Island. Before their arrival, 2,700 refugees from Afghanistan sought refuge in New York with 47 of them coming to Long Island. And according to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), during this period refugees and asylees continued to arrive from other countries, including Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Honduras, El Salvador, Guinea, Russia, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti.
The size of the task of assisting this enormous multitude need not discourage us. As both Jewish and Islamic traditions tell us, “Whoever saves one life saves the world.”
To begin to address this need, in September 2021, the Social Justice Committee joined Upholding Humanity, a Long Island interfaith group formed specifically to address the resettlement of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees in our local communities. The faith communities that comprise Upholding Humanity are the Islamic Center of Long Island, Temple Sinai of Roslyn, Community Synagogue, St. John’s Episcopal Church, the UJA Federation of New York, and the UUCSR Social Justice Committee. Since its founding it has assisted in the resettlement of 7 refugee families.
Over the course of several meetings, committee members considered the great need for support for refugees coming to Long Island. At its December meeting, the Social Justice Committee voted to start the process for a Crisis Grant for refugee resettlement on Long Island. In the next weeks you’ll be asked by committee members to sign a petition in support of this request. When the committee has the signatures of 60 members, the petition will be submitted to the Board of Trustees. If the Board approves the request, an ad hoc group will be formed to vet possible organizations with the goal of presenting the application for a crisis grant for a vote by the Congregation. The need is great but remember: saving one life is saving the world.