Start small. Dream big.
In June 2019, Holly Rosen Fink was thinking about her work in the resettlement space. As a Co-Founder and Director of the non-profit organization Neighbors for Refugees, she participated in resetting many refugee families. She had helped hundreds of immigrants in the TriState region. She looked around her congregation and the community and saw a gap in the number of people assisting new arrivals. Armed with the knowledge of resources and opportunities to help immigrants and the partners involved, she contacted Eric Levine, a social worker she had spoken to about immigration advocacy. The two of them dreamt up Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration (WJCI) on a phone call and spent the next few months creating its mission with a group of community members on Zoom calls. The Torah calls us to help “the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger 36 times. This work is ingrained in who we are to help people in need. WJCI looks through everything we do with a Jewish lens, but we welcome all immigrants regardless of faith and background. For two years, WJCI branded itself as an advocacy organization and made strides in pushing for legislation to protect the human rights of the populations served.
It all changed in August 2021 when Kabul fell. After a massive drive that filled over ten trucks with necessities needed by Afghan refugees deployed at Fort Dix, WJCI ramped up their resettlement efforts as part of a collaboration that featured grants from UJA-Federation of NY, The Shapiro Foundation, and Jewish Federations of North America. In five months, WJCI funded and supported the work of 17 local resettlement groups. Then they created programs to aid further Afghan refugees, including an Afghan Women’s Circle and entrepreneurial arm to help find Afghan women jobs. They successfully mobilized hundreds of volunteers from Westchester’s 52 synagogues and the congregations in Rockland County and the NW Bronx to act, advocate, and stand up for the local immigrant community. Through close relationships with local Congresspersons and State Senators, WJCI also helped Afghan families reconnect with loved ones by assisting with family reunification efforts. They also created an educational program for Afghan women.
Then Russia attacked Ukraine, and WJCI once again decided to respond. Armed once again with funds from the initial collaborators, WJCI added a new, vital partner, HIAS, to support the launch and growth of the Welcome Circles (WC) network. The WC model is HIAS’s version of the Community Sponsorship Hub (CSH) Ukrainian Sponsor Circle, with additional embedded support, resources, and training. In addition, WJCI began reaching out to local faith organizations as potential partners and critical touchpoints for arriving. Out of the over 60 Welcome Circles formed across our country to help Ukrainians since the start of the war, eight are present in Westchester, Riverdale, and Rockland County, including several without fathers who are home fighting the war. WJCI has also formed programs to help the nearly one thousand Ukrainians living in Westchester including English tutoring, career counseling, legal advice, in-kind donations, and trauma-informed gatherings for women and children. Recently, the Biden administration announced the launch of Welcome Corps, a new initiative allowing Americans to sponsor refugees from around the world privately. This is a moment in history, and we are proud to be a part of a Jewish communal think tank to formalize this work.
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