By Adam Grobman
Following the collapse of the Afghan government, the United States is poised to begin the largest resettlement on American soil in history – and Jewish Harrisburg is a part of it.
Beginning next month, Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg will be welcoming refugee families in an effort to help them start their new lives in the face of dire need.
“Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states, ‘In a place where there’s no humanity, be a human being,’” says Steve Schauder, JFS Executive Director. “’Welcoming the stranger’ is a core Jewish value.”
Harrisburg’s agency is one of eighteen JFS agencies from around the country that are engaged in resettlement – a ninety day process in which the organization works with families to find housing, employment, schooling, and other assistance.
All of the refugees or their families were affiliated with the US Government in Afghanistan and have completed an extensive security check with the Department of Homeland Security.
“They’re at the highest level of clearance to enter the country,” Steve says.
JFS will be working with eight families in the initial round, with more families joining later in the year. They are searching for a full-time resettlement site director to spearhead the project, and are exploring becoming a full-time site moving forward.
“JFS helped resettle more than one hundred Soviet Jewish families a few decades back, so we’re carrying on that tradition that has been established in our past,” Steve says. “Harrisburg prides itself on being a welcoming Jewish community, and we wanted to extend that attitude to these new, future Americans.”
JFS Board President Bob Wolff says that, as an organization, JFS felt participating in this project was simply “the right thing to do.”
“These are families in need,” he says. “They’ve been ripped from their homeland, their families, their societies and communities, and JFS’ mission is to help the most vulnerable in our community – these people are in a vulnerable position.”
Jewish Family Service is joined by three other organizations in the Harrisburg-area providing these services, and understand that they cannot undertake this project alone, hoping to create a “community coalition” that involves synagogues, agencies, and community members.
“We really need teams of volunteers to work directly with every family,” Steve says. “The greatest need is housing, but also helping families get introduced to and function in their new community.”
Interested volunteers can get in touch with Jewish Family Service at jfsofhbg.org/volunteer. Those interested in helping to underwrite the extensive costs of the project can visit jfsofhbg.org/donate.