August 2016
TS Co-Sponsored Refugee Family Has Landed!
Originally destined for Baltimore, our Syrian family of six was re-assigned to Temple Shalom when the congregation in Baltimore assigned to help them had to bow out. Late on August 25, the parents and their 5-, 11-, and 12-year-old girls and 9-year-old boy arrived at National Airport. With the help of our Lutheran Social Services caseworker Chloe Shiras and a translator, Temple members Sara Nathan and Karen Green met the weary travelers and caravanned to their apartment.

On the way, Sara pointed out the Washington Monument and the Capitol building to the Dad. He conveyed this to the girls who were not impressed--a deer on the side of the road held much more interest for them! Arriving at their apartment in Riverdale at 1 am, the family received a quick safety briefing and enjoyed a hot meal of rice and roasted vegetable with lentils that Marilyn Ripin prepared earlier. The Mom recognized the Syrian dish immediately and was pleased.

Sara showed the mom around her new home, which Temple members had set up with furniture, food, and toiletries. Understandably, the Dad’s first question was how much the rent would be each month. The kids sat quietly while Chloe demonstrated the gas stove, garbage disposal and smoke detector. After that, the family was left alone to eat and turn in after a very long day of travel.

September 2016
Welcome to America

Late last month, Temple Shalom’s Refugee Response Team welcomed a Syrian family of six to the United States. The parents and their 5-, 11-, and 12-year-old girls and 9-year-old boy are settling in to their Riverdale, Md., apartment, which has been furnished and stocked by Temple volunteers and donors.

The family is also getting a taste of American-style paperwork! There are many prerequisites to living and working in America, and the team helped the family through several of them this week. On Wednesday, they completed the food stamp application at Lutheran Social Services. Thursday, team member Karen Green accompanied them to BWI…twice…to straighten out a mistake in their I-94 arrival documents, which need fixing before their Friday appointment at Social Security to obtain the all-important cards enabling them to work. (Thanks Joelle Morris.)

Through it all, the kids were patient, attentive and playful when the opportunity arose. Zero squabbling. Cultural difference? Miracle? But the week was not all work and no play, after Sara Nathan did a grocery run on Friday, there was a visit to the park Saturday (with Juliet Mellow) followed Monday by a Labor Day parade and picnic in Kensington (with Heidi Lovett, Joelle Morris and Svetlana Shargorodskaya).

The parents are so grateful for all that our volunteers have done and are yet to do--they’ve even told some team member that they would like to prepare them a freshly slaughtered sheep dinner! Before we tackle that, the team plans to introduce them to American potlucks when they have had a couple months to settle in.

A Warm Welcome!
Our refugee family made great strides the past week settling in to life in America. With Joelle Morris’ help, they were able to navigate the paperwork blizzard at the Social Security office. The parents have begun three-hour daily intensive English classes at Prince George’s Community College and the children are enrolled in school. The whole family has a great attitude and seems to love learning – English and otherwise. But it wasn’t all work and no play this week. The children had a great time at the College Park Aviation Museum with Juliet Mellow and Alicia Sullivan while their parents took English placement exams.

Looking for Work and Working the Press
Now that our co-sponsored Syrian family has settled in and the four kids are in school, the Temple’s Refugee Response Team has turned its attention to finding the father a job. Lead job development volunteer Marilyn Ripin took him to six stores near his apartment last week to check out job possibilities. With no English skills, his prospects seem to be limited but he’s working hard to learn the language. (He attends ESOL classes for three hours every weekday and we hope to set him up with a one-on-one tutor in the next few weeks.)

Father has experience in small farming and driving and would be interested in learning any trade. He is outgoing, smart and funny – and needs to support his family. Do you own a company or have contacts for finding suitable jobs? Stocking shelves, cleaning homes or offices, lawn maintenance, kitchen help, manufacturing… he is ready and willing to start.

While our Refugee Response Team has yet to attract employment for the family, attracting positive attention has been easy. Our co-sponsorship has led to calls from members of the press and congregations around the area. Rabbi Feshbach and RRT chairwoman Karen Green were interviewed by the Washington Post religion reporter for an upcoming story on Jews helping Muslims. In addition, six local synagogues considering a sponsorship of their own have requested material and talked with RRT members to get more information about the process. And, as a champions of the HIAS Welcome Campaign, Temple Shalom was the only congregation appearing in this Times of Israel piece:

October 2016
America is very dog!

Now that several Temple members have met and spent time with our sponsored Syrian family, language skills and cross cultural awareness are increasing by leaps and bounds in both directions. The family’s four children are quickly picking up American sayings, such as “See you” when someone leaves. “See you soon,” “See you Monday,” “See you next week” or “See you in five minutes” are all accompanied by smiles and high fives. “Oh my goodness” and “oh my gosh” are other favorites learned this week.

On a long drive, the kindergartner shouted, “Dog!” every time she saw one, prompting the eldest daughter to sagely observe that “America is very dog.”

The volunteers are learning a great deal, too. Frequent visitors know now to slip off their shoes at the door and to sit on the floor for meals, which are served either with pita or spoons to scoop from common platters – no need for plates or napkins. Mom is an incredible cook and makes fragrant rice concoctions, homemade pita stuffed with spinach, yogurt and onion and gorgeous cookies filled with bean paste or coconut and jam. Her delectable coffee is spiced with cardamom and served in small glasses.

Refugee Response Team Update: Trick or Treat!
Our co-sponsored Syrian family is enjoying American fall traditions. One of the four children’s first “lessons” from their peers when they enrolled in school mid-September was Halloween, and they’ve looked forward to it ever since. Carving jack o’ lanterns, choosing costumes at the thrift shop, and trick or treating were as much a thrill for our volunteers as for the kids. Several Temple volunteers got to experience trick or treat night with the family and learned how to say “slow down” in Arabic, as the adults had to repeatedly admonish the kids to stop racing from house to house in all their excitement for the holiday.

In other good news, the father got his driver’s license so more jobs are possible for him despite limited English. He would love to be a delivery driver and is ready and willing to work, with the goal of self-sufficiency for him and his family.

As for the mother of the family, she is an English-learning superstar! She is the only one in her refugee English class to be promoted from Level 1 to Level 3 directly, bypassing Level 2. She’s also a remarkable cook and baker--her home-made cookies sold out at the Oct. 27 congregational meeting.

November 2016
Response Team Update: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This week, the Temple’s co-sponsored Syrian family took significant steps toward self-sufficiency. The father accepted a job building cabinets and counter tops and bought an inexpensive car from a neighbor to make the 20-minute drive to work. Within days, his employer decided they didn’t have the funds to support new employees and the car’s check engine light came on. So now, unfortunately, the father is back to being jobless.

In better news, the Temple community was pleased to welcome the family to the synagogue for the first time on November 4 for a first Friday potluck. Rabbi Feshbach showed them the ark and the Torah and the family’s four kids enjoyed playing and folding origami with Temple kids after dinner. On Mitzvah Day, the mother and two daughters returned to sell baked goods and cardamom-spiced coffee to hungry Temple volunteers, earning $198 for themselves. Their delectable baked goods will be on offer again at the Holiday Mart on December 11.

Thanksgiving Reflections
We have much to be thankful for – cosponsoring a refugee family since last August has yielded bountiful blessings for Temple Shalom. Providing for the family as they navigated immigration, social security, healthcare and the school system soon took a back seat to what we’ve received -- an introduction to another culture, delicious food and drink and warm friendship. Equally rewarding, the congregants resettling the family have worked closely these past months, evolving from a strangers working together on a good cause to a group of friends who know, appreciate and support one another in addition to supporting the refugees. We are all thankful for this incredible experience.

December 2016

Refugee Response Update: Thank You, Lebanese Taverna!
As most Temple members know, the father of our co-sponsored Syrian refugee family has been actively searching for a job since he arrived in the U.S. a few months ago. He has been anxious to start employment in order to support his family of six. In fact, he has been working with Refugee Response Team member Marilyn Ripkin on job preparation, resume writing, and interviewing and he recently bought a used car in order to make more jobs accessible from his Riverdale apartment.

This week all the hard work and preparation paid off when he was offered a job as a busboy at a Lebanese Taverna location in Virginia. The restaurant chain, which serves delicious Middle Eastern cuisine, has a long-standing relationship with Temple Shalom, catering many events including bar and bat mitzvahs. Temple executive director Susan Zemsky introduced the hiring manager to the father and he was quickly offered the position.

In light of this good news, the Refugee Response Team asks that Temple members show their appreciation by dining at their local Lebanese Taverna restaurant and considering it for catering events at the Temple or elsewhere. (Locations near Temple Shalom include Bethesda, Silver Spring, and two in Rockville.)

The chain was begun by Lebanese immigrants in 1979 and has long supported newly arrived workers, even ones with little or no English skills like the father of our co-sponsored family. Thank you to this wonderful community-oriented business!

Refugee Response Update: Tutoring Project Under Way
The four children in the Temple’s co-sponsored Syrian refugee family are enjoying some one-on-one educational help from a group of dedicated American teens. Every other Sunday, four students from The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville volunteer one-on-one with the children to help them learn English, review their course material and complete their homework. In return, the JDS students, who are enrolled in Arabic II, have the opportunity to practice their conversational Arabic and gain exposure to the family’s Syrian dialect.

The partnership was spearheaded by Temple Shalom member Alicia Sullivan, mother of JDS senior Daniel Baumstein. “This light bulb went off in my head and I thought, you know, JDS teaches our kids Arabic,” Sullivan said. “Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if our teenagers could work with these lovely young kids?”

The JDS students plan to work with the Syrian family throughout the rest of the year as long as the kids still need help with English. Ultimately, however, the objective is for the children to be able to speak English and complete their homework on their own. Read more about this unique project on the JDS website:

Other news: The family had a great time at the Holiday Mart. Mom demonstrated Syrian cooking and the kids joined in craft activities. One of their drawings is displayed in the Temple Shalom library.

January 2017
Refugee Response Team Update: Getting the Word Out

Nearly 85,000 refugees from around the world entered the United States in fiscal year 2016. Some of the newly arrived families are paired with a sponsoring organization to help them navigate their new country and settle in. Temple Shalom’s Refugee Response Team members have been working to get the word out about the need for more sponsoring organizations for refugees. Marilyn and Barrie Ripkin, Heidi Lovett, and Sara Nathan attended outreach meetings sponsored by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Lutheran Social Services at Washington Hebrew Congregation and Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., and Temple Beth-El in Bethesda. Members of 15 different congregations who are exploring ways to support refugees in our area attended the meeting at Temple Micah on Dec 18. Many ate delicious cookies made by the mother of the Temple Shalom sponsored family and ordered more. They also enjoyed seeing drawings created by the children of the family. One is on display in the Temple Shalom library.

February 2017
A new picture book details the journey of a five-year-old girl and her family from war-torn Syria to a new life in the United States. During their country’s devastating civil war, the young girl and her family were forced to leave their Syrian homeland and take refuge in Jordan. After four years of living as refugees, they received their papers to move to America in 2016.

Told with simple language and hand-made drawings by the girl and her older sisters, Our Journey from Syria to America explores the girl’s mix of emotions as she starts her new life in Maryland. The 26-page paperback, available on Amazon, gives a unique perspective on the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child who has been through many hardships but has abundant hope and appreciation for the good things in her life. It is suitable for all ages. Rabbi Michael Feshbach wrote the afterword for the story which describes Temple Shalom's involvement.

“They say I am too little to remember how my family came to America,” she writes. “That’s not true. I will never forget.”

Proceeds from sales of the book will go to the author’s family; Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, which sponsored the family; HIAS, the oldest international refugee protection and resettlement agency in the U.S.; and Temple Shalom, the Reform Jewish congregation in Chevy Chase, Md., that supported the family.

Our Journey from Syria to America is available through this link: