Turn the Tables: A Refugee-Focused Seder in Kansas City

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis. All across the country this Passover, people found ways to share refugees’ stories during their seders and to talk about the issues they face. Using resources and materials from Repair the World’s Turn the Tables project, they were able to add additional meaning and spark important conversations at their tables. Here, Kansas City resident, Malinda Kimmel, talks about her experience hosting a Turn the Tables seder for friends and family from a wide range of political backgrounds.

What inspired you to host a refugee-focused Passover seder?
For me and my family, this seder made sense. Refugee issues are something we are passionate about, and Pesach is a story of leaving one country for another to come to freedom and safety. Also, three of our seder participants work at JVS Kansas City, an organization that works to resettle new refugees into our community. The seder allowed us to share with others the importance of refugee resettlement in our community.

How did you weave refugee issues into the seder?
We began our seder with the Turn the Tables guided discussion. We made sure all guests understood our seder was to be a safe space for open discussion and respectful conversation. Our guests really jumped in and opened up, allowing us to talk about the connection between Jews in Egypt and others now who flee their countries for freedom and safety.
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Turn the Tables: A Refugee-Focused Passover Seder for 54 in Portland

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis. All across the country this Passover, people found ways to share refugees’ stories during their seders and to talk about the issues they face. Using resources and materials from Repair the World’s Turn the Tables project, they were able to add additional meaning and spark important conversations at their tables. Here, Portland, Oregon resident Debbie Frank talks about her experience hosting a Turn the Table seder for more than 50 people in conjunction with the Meetup group PDX MOTs!

1. What inspired you to host a refugee-focused seder and dinner?
Over the years, the Passover seder has become my favorite Jewish holiday experience. My family in Alabama always uses the same traditional Haggadah, which I still very much cherish. But, it wasn’t until I moved to Portland a few years ago that I experienced my first Seder at a friend’s house with a Haggadah that was completely custom for the kids. Since this year was my first time to tackle putting on a seder myself (for 54 adults no less), I wanted to honor tradition while melding in something unexpected.
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Repair Interview: Maria Fedore on Helping Teachers Help Refugee Students

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.

Being a teacher is a heroic challenge, no matter who your students are or what you’re teaching. But imagine walking into a classroom where several, or even most, of your students come from refugee backgrounds. Knowing how to bring these students together and meet the needs of such a diverse classroom is an almost unimaginable task. But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an organization called Tulsa Newcomer Services is working to make it a bit easier.

Through trainings, professional development, and ongoing support, TNS “empowers teachers to provide an excellent education to their culturally and linguistically diverse learners.” Repair the World recently spoke with Executive Director, Maria Fedore, to find out more about Tulsa’s refugee community and how she helps students – and teachers – thrive.

What was the inspiration behind Tulsa Newcomers Services?
Our inspiration is our students. In Tulsa, the population of refugees is large and continuing to grow. Many of the students have experienced long stays in refugee camps, have had limited access to education, lack language fluency, and have experienced discrimination in school settings. Meanwhile, all students deserve to have access to education and a chance to thrive. We recognized the importance of supporting teachers who are working with these culturally and linguistically diverse students, and aim to help them meet their unique needs.
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Snapshots from the Jewish Food Justice Movement

This post was created in partnership with Jewish Food Experience, a project focused on bringing people together around Jewish food, culture, and tradition.

What does food justice look like on the ground? That depends on where you are. Across the country, urban and rural communities of all sizes struggle with food insecurity and uneven access and availability to healthy food. But the particular challenges these communities face change from place to place—and the movement shifts in response to those changes.

Repair the World partners with local organizations and volunteers in multiple cities—Pittsburgh, New York City, Detroit and Philadelphia—and on multiple fronts to galvanize food justice movements that reflect and prioritize each city’s specific needs. Recently, we reached out to our food justice Team Leaders, who are working with these communities to get a firsthand account of what food justice looks like from their vantage point. Read on:

What is the most pressing food justice-related challenge in your city?
PITTSBURGH
There are 2 Pittsburghs: the rust belt comeback story people talk about, and the segregation and separation that is keeping blacks, other minorities and individuals living on the margins from being able to access and partake in the “new” Pittsburgh. This affects the food movement as well. Farmers markets, urban agriculture and all the hot new eateries mainly serve the white, wealthier classes of the city. So how does our city continue to progress and move forward without leaving people out? – Greg LaBelle, 25

NEW YORK CITY
Hunger is the most salient food justice challenge for New York City. The high cost of living in NYC doesn’t just prevent people from consuming healthful foods, it straight-up prevents them from being able to purchase enough food. Some government and private programs help alleviate the hunger, but they are not sufficient and have physical and/or psychological barriers to entry. – Sam Sittenfield, 25

PHILADELPHIA
The availability and distribution of healthy food options throughout the city is pressing. Philly is the poorest large city in America. Food resources tend to be concentrated in the wealthiest areas while under-resourced areas have more corner stores (which often lack fruits and vegetables) and fewer grocery stores. – Bridget Flynn, 23

DETROIT
I think the most pressing food justice challenge in Detroit is childhood hunger. In southeastern Michigan, 1 in 5 children is food insecure and over 300,000,000 children qualify for free or reduced lunch in schools. Without consistent access to nourishing food, children and adults are not able flourish. – Erin Piasecki, 25

What role can/should Jewish food advocates play in helping address this challenge?
PITTSBURGH
Jewish organizations and advocates can truly support the people fighting these issues when they understand how best to support the individuals and groups that need help. It is crucial that we not overpower the people who need help and not diminish the focus on them and their struggle.

NEW YORK CITY
The first thing that we need to do is to educate ourselves. Many of us in the Jewish community come from privileged backgrounds and will never truly understand hunger. We can, however, start to understand the context and how pervasive it is in our communities.

PHILADELPHIA
I have seen Jewish food advocates help to make positive change in the food justice sphere by listening to community needs and providing the resources to fill them. A major part of ally-ship is active listening before taking action. Jewish texts can also be used as a tool for food justice education.

DETROIT
Jewish food advocates have tremendous power to keep hunger, and particularly the plight of hundreds of thousands of hungry children, in the public eye through awareness raising campaigns, food drives, and other volunteer driven initiatives in their communities. By supporting and collaborating with longstanding institutions advocates can amplify and concentrate their fundraising and other efforts to eliminate 21st century hunger.

Find out more about Repair the World’s food justice work, including #SupportforRefugees, a Passover campaign focused on the global refugee crisis, and how you can become a future Repair the World fellow. Big thanks to some of our wonderful local food justice partners: Grow Pittsburgh, Keep Growing Detroit, Jewish Farm School in Philadelphia and Hunger Free America in NYC.

A Refugee-Focused Alternative Break With Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life

This guest post is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis. It was written by Ya’arah Pinhas and Will Simon, and covers a jam-packed alternative spring break program focused on refugee resettlement, and run by Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life.

Over the recent Spring Break, Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life’s Social Justice Committee led a service learning trip to NYC and NJ exploring refugee resettlement in the area. With an ever increasing number of 60 million internally displaced people, asylum seekers, and refugees worldwide alongside the media’s focus on the Syrian refugee crisis, the committee has focused its efforts on raising awareness on campus and encouraging students to take action on this topic. The trip’s goals were to learn about the process of resettlement of refugees in the US, specifically looking at the services provided to them once they arrive within US borders, and volunteering with organizations that assist refugees newly arrived to the US and advocate on their behalf.
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Repair Interview: Zhanna Veyts on Being a Refugee, Then Helping Others with HIAS

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.

What if you had the opportunity to give back to someone or something who made a profound difference in your life? For Zhanna Veyts, that is exactly what happened. In 1989, when she was still a child, Veyts and her parents left the Soviet Union for America with the help of HIAS – the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S. (and our partner in this month’s #SupportforRefugees campaign.)

Today, Veyts works for HIAS supporting refugees going through the same transitions she went through nearly 30 years ago. Repair the World recently spoke to Veyts to find out how her experience shapes her work and how, despite our differences, we all pretty much want the same thing.

Can you tell me a bit about your own refugee experience, and how it impacts your work at HIAS?
I’m originally from Ukraine and came to America with my parents in 1989 with help from HIAS. We went through Vienna and Italy like hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish refugees at the time. We had to figure out if we would be able to go to America or Israel. When we arrived in Los Angeles, our experience was not unlike everything that refugees experience today. You get an apartment, it gets furnished, there are social programs, you enroll in school or get a job, you have to learn English, and life starts anew. You get here and very quickly you’re on your own.

The process is quite complicated, but HIAS has been doing it for 130 years. I realized later that some of these big decisions that made a huge impact in my life at different crossroads were directly related to HIAS. It is so interesting to be working on the other side of it now.

What did it feel like to be an adolescent going through this experience?
When we left, we thought we would never see my grandparents again. That happens to so many people today. We did not know that years later, the situation with the Soviet Union would change and we’d be able to bring them here. We really thought we were saying goodbye, and that was really rough.

I also remember the dramatic difference between my life in Ukraine before the Iron Curtain fell, and what I found in Europe. It was Christmastime when we made it to Vienna and Italy. Everything was sparkly and clean, it felt like Disneyland. Before the Internet and with no access to Western television, I’d had no vision of what to expect when I left. Arriving there, I had a definite, “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment. Soon after we came to America we moved to Los Angeles, and I attended public school the first year. I remember it feeling so much bigger and more diverse than anything I’d experienced. A year later I transferred to a Jewish day school and remember being really aware that there were differences between me and the other kids.

How did you end up working for HIAS?
It was kind of serendipitous. Going to Jewish day school and Jewish sleep away camps had a big part in shaping who I am. In college I attended Hillel events and went on service trips. The service part and social justice part of Judaism always made a lot of sense to me as a person from somewhere else who had been included. When I moved to New York, I got a job at the JDC working for their non-sectarian disaster relief department. I found the work really interesting, and it was in-line with my sense of Judaism to help others beyond our own community. When I got the job here three years ago, everything came full circle.

What do you do at HIAS?
I work in communications and digital media, running social media and our blog. I think of these things as different platforms for story telling. The stories of the people HIAS works with are what makes this work really compelling. This organization facilitates this completely transformative shift in people’s lives. I experienced that myself. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s the beginning of a whole journey that people go on. And it’s difficult and hard for many people. But so many people finally find safety and freedom.

I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to meet a lot of people HIAS works with in different capacities. I’ve seen programs in Africa and met Afghanis, Iraqis, and people from so many different corners of the world who all have their own stories and experiences. But the majority of them, when we ask them what’s the best thing about getting to America, say “feeling safe.” When it comes down to it, people really all want the same thing. They just want to have a nice, warm, safe environment for their families.

Find out more about HIAS’ work, and Repair the World and HIAS’ #SupportforRefugees campaign.

Photo: Veyts (second from right) making a home visit to a family of Ethiopian refugees living in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo credit: Glenna Gordon/HIAS

Repair Inteview: Ruben Chandrasekar on Helping Refugees in Baltimore

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.

Imagine leaving everything and everyone you know, and starting life over from scratch. For the millions of refugees around the world who are forced to flee war and persecution in their home countries, this unimaginable situation becomes everyday reality.

As someone who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, Ruben Chandrasekar personally understands the challenges that come with being uprooted. And his experiences drive his work as Executive Director of the Baltimore chapter of International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization that helps refugees rebuild their lives. Repair the World recently spoke with Chandrasekar about IRC’s refugee resettlement work in Baltimore, how volunteers can get involved, and his thoughts on how the Jewish community can make a difference in the lives of today’s refugees. (Spoiler alert: it involves Albert Einstetin.)

How did you get involved with refugee work?
I was born in Chennai, India and moved to the US with my mom when I was 14. I lived in a small town in Upstate New York, and was the first non-white kid in the school. I faced a lot of challenges and discrimination as a student. My mom, who was a prominent nurse in India, couldn’t find work as a nurse until she passed the board exam. She studied for the boards while working as a home health aide. I remember driving her to someone’s home to take care of them once. An elderly gentleman opened the door, took a look at her, and said, “We don’t want your kind in our house.”
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