A Stranger in a Strange Land

Two years ago, we welcomed Dr. Joseph Schuman to speak to our congregation about the important work of the Bergen County Sanctuary Committee. He explained the vital mission of this Committee, which he heads; namely, to provide humanitarian support and advocacy for those seeking political asylum from murderous regimes throughout the world, and/or local conditions exposing these individuals and their families to cultures of murder, rape or torture.

Neil Schreffler, Interfaith Chair at the time, and Karen Eisenberg, Chair of Social Action, joined the Board of the Sanctuary Committee on behalf of Agudath Israel, and our congregation has provided financial support through an annual donation from the Rabbi’s discretionary fund. As a result of CAI’s involvement, the name was changed to the Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition, and we hope to expand this program to other congregations within our interfaith network.    

As of October 11, Congregation Agudath Israel crossed an important threshold in our engagement, due to the compassion and generosity of congregants, Derek Fields and Rebecca Glass. They have welcomed into their home a 29 year old man of the Muslim faith, Ammar Hebah.  Ammar is a marine engineer who fled Yemen due to political persecution, his family remains behind. After approximately four months in detention, he was recently granted asylum with the understanding that he would be obtaining temporary residence.

This “welcoming” is in the highest tradition of our people, as we are commanded to remember that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt – from which all our obligations to the least fortunate flow. We also recall the prophetic words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, when he joined Dr. Martin Luther King in the Selma Civil Rights march, and reflected that his feet were praying.

The Sanctuary Committee subsidizes Ammar’s living expenses and assists in his search for employment and ultimately independence. He is already attending a program at the JVS to help him find a job.   However, we cannot succeed in this undertaking without the support, guidance and companionship of our CAI community. Over the next few months, we anticipate that Ammar may need to see a doctor or dentist, or to obtain other services and goods (for example, clothing and toiletries) that many of us take for granted.  More fundamentally, he needs to learn how our society functions – how to use the post-office, bank, library, community center. Also, we want to make him feel welcomed in our community. Let’s share with him the freedoms and the way of life of which we are justly proud.   

Please don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to do Tikun Olam.  We hear so much about the millions of refugees who have no place to go -- the migrants who die in flight to anywhere away from the strife in their homelands.  We Jews were once the “boat people” – we were the ones turned away from every port – forced to return to our deaths.

Here is one man we can save, and as we learn, when you save one life you save a world. Please lend a hand in helping Ammar retain his dignity and humanity as he meets the challenges of transitioning into life in the United States – a nation of immigrants. Please consider how you can best assist – in donating goods or services, in his job search, in inviting him to your home for dinner, in showing him the ropes, in providing a ride, in exposing him to the heritage and blessings of a free society.

Contact Karen Eisenberg, who will be coordinating all congregation assistance, by email:  or by cell# 973-809-9424, to discuss your role in this congregational mitzvah.

Our Social Action and Interfaith Committees are looking for new members to join us in advancing the social justice agenda at CAI and finding common cause with other congregations within our community. We are commanded by our Torah to pursue justice. These committees offer a meaningful way to join together so we can make a difference.

With your help, we can translate our prayers for a better world into deeds. Our programming will include hands-on helping of the poor and infirm, presentations to our Congregation, advocacy for Jewish values of justice and compassion in the public sector, and participation in community-wide events/demonstrations. There is no better time to become involved in formulat­ing and implementing our CAI justice agenda.

Please join us by contacting Karen Eisenberg or Seth Fliegler, co-chairs of the Social Action Committee, or Glenn Sachs, Chair of the Interfaith Committee.

Tuesday, May 30 2017 5 Sivan 5777