Trump Stifles Sinai’s Refugee Support
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Trump Stifles Sinai’s Refugee Support

The Sandy Springs congregation was prepared to co-sponsor a Syrian refugee family by the end of February.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Temple Sinai was preparing to sponsor a refugee family at the end of February, but President Donald Trump’s executive order placing a four-month moratorium on the refugee resettlement program and indefinitely suspending admissions from Syria has forced the Reform congregation to put its plans on hold.

“It’s all so tragic when you consider the real human beings on the other end of this vicious order,” said Kevin Abel, a Temple Sinai member who is the vice chairman of the board of New American Pathways.

That Atlanta nonprofit works with two of the nine national resettlement agencies authorized by the State Department to support newly arrived refugees. New American Pathways in fiscal 2016 helped 502 new refugees, primarily from Burma, Congo, Bhutan, Syria and Somalia, get settled, find work, learn English and other needed skills, and become self-sufficient.

Temple Sinai is joining the organization’s co-sponsorship program, in which a faith group commits to provide supplementary services to one family for three to six months.

Abel said the co-sponsorship, which only 10 percent of refugee families receive, involves such actions as meeting the new arrivals at the airport, stocking their pantry the first time, serving their first meal, providing transportation to medical and governmental appointments, and teaching them to use public transit.

When the idea for Sinai to become the first synagogue co-sponsor arose in the fall, Abel said, the plan was to push the program after the High Holidays. Instead, during a congregational discussion between Yom Kippur services, a congregant complained about the Jewish community’s lackluster response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The crowd got excited when the New American Pathways program was explained.

Abel said he hoped seven or eight families would make the time commitment and contribute to the $2,500 Sinai needed to participate, but he had about 25 signed up and over $4,000 raised by the end of December.

That’s too many people to aid one refugee family, so Sinai intended to help one Syrian group, likely in Clarkston, while learning the program in the first half of 2017, then take on more. Abel said no faith organization has co-sponsored more than two families a year.

“We want to maintain the enthusiasm,” Abel said in December. “The capacity is certainly there.”

Now, he said, Sinai will likely work with refugees who are already here instead of welcoming them at the airport, but the support services will be similar.

Sinai has collected more than one apartment’s worth of furniture, but none of it will be needed until after the refugee moratorium. Fortunately, two Sinai families donated a storage unit to hold the furniture and any future donations.

“The community response has been overwhelming and helps validate that we live in a society with many good people who want to do the right thing,” Abel said.

Sinai’s senior rabbi, Ron Segal, distributed an angry response to the Trump order, but he also expressed pride in all the congregants supporting New American Pathways. “I am hopeful that their efforts toward Temple Sinai sponsoring a Syrian refugee family comes to fruition soon.”

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