The congreation has been working with the organization since January and has received a single mother with an adult son, 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son who currently reside in Stone Mountain.
Every year Rabbi Ari Kaiman said he tries to push the congregation to make the world a better place to make a collective difference. “It is a timely issue in our country and in the world, and the response from the congregation has been incredibly enthusiastic,” he said. “I hope that every year we find work that excites and engages the congregation’s hands in mitzvot as much as this project is.”
The congregation remains a resource for the family by providing household items as needed. Since the family’s arrival volunteers have spent four to five hours on any given day tutoring the family in English because they are part of the Afar people, which is a minority in Ethiopia and speak a language that very few Ethiopians speak, Kaiman said.
The family also is receiving a lot of help from New American Pathways to find jobs for the adults and to enroll the children in summer camps. More than 70 volunteers have stepped up at Shearith to help make the lives of the family and the process of assimilating to the Atlanta community as easy as possible, Kaiman said.
“It is a true honor to help welcome those who have had to leave their homes and are newcomers to our city,” Congregation Shearith Israel President Richard Kaplan said in a statement. “The Shearith Israel community is eager to lend our help and support to ease the transition for these soon-to-be-new residents of Atlanta.”
Shearith Israel collected $3,000, Rabbi Kaiman said, to cover any incidental needs such as dining out and participating in fun activities. A separate donation from congregants was used to furnish the apartment.
New American Pathways volunteer Dana Geller is one of eight resettlement committee members, in charge of enrolling the kids in schools and providing in-home tutoring for children if they need additional help with schoolwork.
Volunteers will assist the family with transportation, budgeting, banking and health care, including ensuring that the refugees get to medical appointments. Geller said the volunteers also will teach the refugees how to shop for groceries with food stamps.
“All of our congregants and community members are bringing their whole selves into this project, and I am so proud of the work everyone is doing,” Rabbi Kaiman said.
He said one of the reasons Shearith Israel is pursuing the endeavor is because the refugees’ story parallels Jewish narratives of oppression and immigration.
“We are commanded time and again to welcome the stranger,” he said. “It’s a primary Jewish value and reminds us of historic stories our parents and grandparents shared when they fled and were welcomed by their brothers and sisters who were already here.”
Geller said she has never talked to refugees about whether having Jewish help changes their perceptions of Jews, but Rabbi Kaiman said that doing good regardless of the views of the beneficiaries is the very definition of a mitzvah.
“In a time where there are more refugees in the world than perhaps there have ever been,” he said, “we feel that it’s imperative that the Jewish community and Shearith Israel help refugee families feel at home when they arrive to the unknown.”