4 R.I. congregations to host a Refugee Shabbat


Four Rhode Island congregations will observe a Refugee Shabbat on Oct. 19-20. 


Temple Beth-El, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Habonim and Temple Sinai are part of the HIAS Welcome Campaign, a nationwide Jewish network of 420 congregations that are committed to respecting refugees and supporting HIAS’ work.  

American Jews started The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society over 130 years ago to rescue Jews fleeing the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe. Today, the organization, while still an American nonprofit Jewish agency, helps people of all faiths who are fleeing war and persecution all around the world.  It is now known simply as HIAS, pronounced “high as.”

   The four Rhode Island HIAS Welcome Campaign congregations will each observe, in their own way, what HIAS has designated Refugee Shabbat. All programs are open to the public.

 Temple Beth El, 70 Orchard Ave., Providence, will have a worship service and guest speaker at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19. The Rev. Charles Blustein Ortman, minister of immigration and sanctuary for the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, will speak about the status of the First Unitarian Church of Providence as a Sanctuary Congregation. Reverend Ortman previously served as the interim minister of the First Unitarian Church. His talk will include details on how to support the church’s efforts on behalf of a refugee family.

Temple Habonim, 165 New Meadow Road, Barrington, will have a worship service and guest speaker at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19.  Attorney Angel Taveras spent a week this past summer in Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border.  He will describe his work with asylum seekers there, and talk about U.S. and international asylum law. Taveras was mayor of Providence from 2011 to 2015 and now practices law at Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

Temple Sinai, 30 Hagen Ave., Cranston, will have a worship service and guest speaker at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19.  Kathleen Cloutier is executive director of Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, a secular nonprofit immigration and citizenship assistance organization. She will describe her work as the director of the only agency designated by the U.S. government to settle refugees in Rhode Island.

Temple Emanu-El, 99 Taft Ave., Providence, will have a speaker at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, following services and the community Kiddush/Lunch. Baha Sadr, director of Refugee Resettlement and Case Management at Dorcas International, will speak about the institute’s refugee settlement work in Rhode Island and about U.S. policy changes that impact refugees arriving in the state.  Rabbi Wayne Franklin will give a d’var Torah on Jews’ obligation to help refugees and treat them with kindness.  

Over 65 million people are currently displaced worldwide, a global crisis that calls to mind Jewish history. How to welcome the stranger is referenced more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible, most directly in Deuteronomy 10:19: “Welcome the stranger in your midst, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”

ELIZABETH BAKST is the organizer of Temple Habonim’s part in The HIAS Welcome Campaign and coordinated Refugee Shabbat announcements for the four participating Rhode Island congregations.