Update Kol Ami's Afghan Refugee Resettlement Efforts


Shalom Kol Ami Friends,

Kol Ami is currently involved in several efforts to resettle and welcome new American's who have come here under duress. This is an experience well known to the Jewish people and to most American Jews. We like to say Judaism is a spiritual tradition with a focus on action and not belief. Your life here on earth has great meaning in the love and comfort you show other humans and the planet through the living of your life. Wisdom from our ancestors points us in the direction of being proactive and taking responsibility, finding our ability to respond, to the needs of this world. To the suffering in this world. Responding to the possibility of healing and renewal in this world.


Do not be indifferent to your neighbor. Deuteronomy 22:3


Nachmanides makes it clear: “Assist others. Remember the bond of humanity between you, and forget the hatred”.


Elie Wiesel: Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”


And now an update on the really beautiful work happening through our Jewish community:


An Update on Afghan Family Support from Social Action Committee member, Deborah Kassel-Day

Dear Kol Ami Community, Your support for newcomer Afghan families has been incredibly positive! The Rabbi has received a number of donations to her discretionary fund earmarked for direct Afghan family needs and requests, and our congregation now has SEVEN diaper donors! Acknowledgment and thanks go out to community members Ellie Hochman and Sandy Voit, Erin Fleshman, Jo-Ann Skiena and Steve Garey, the Mehdipour family, Marge Eiseman, Rachel Doyle, and Sue CollisonGoldner for providing monthly diaper packs to seven families in need. You are all making a difference!

TODAH RABAH!

Since November, our outreach has served approximately 20 new families. In December alone, a number of families arrived without resettlement agencies to assist them.

Whole Heart Refugee Alliance (see below), Kol Ami members, and other partners rallied together and gathered essential household items and helped them set up their apartments. Kol Ami’s resources have paid for items ranging from electric kettles, to pillows and bedding, to providing dishes, cookware, cribs and other furniture, to toilet brushes and cleaning supplies! In addition to the diaper donors, Kol Ami has given three families laptops or tablets for use in learning English, applying for work, and as a tool for children to submit homework assignments.

By way of background, I got involved with Kol Ami’s Social Action Committee sometime in the spring of 2021 because I wanted to make personal connections at Kol Ami and also engage in a meaningful way to “repair our world.” Since attending that first social action meeting, I have found both! Through my participation on the committee, I met Debby Heimfeld, a Kol Ami member who has been doing hands on work with Afghan refugee families since 2018. I was very interested in direct service, so I reached out to Debby to find out how I could get involved to support our new Afghan neighbors.

Debby has been an inspiration to me, and to the others in our small, grassroots cadre of interfaith volunteers. Her compassion, dedication, and her commitment to serve the “stranger” among us is beyond measure, and she has taught me so much! Debby started out as an ESL/ELL teacher, but in the process of getting to know her students, she learned of their great needs and ongoing challenges as they integrated into our community. Many of the families are low income, and have difficulty meeting basic can be financially catastrophic. The work Debby and our group has undertaken has grown from 35 families who participated in the first ESL class, to over 100 today! Recently, our volunteer group made the decision to create a more “official” presence and chose the name Whole Heart Refugee Alliance to capture the place from which our efforts began: our hearts. Our tagline is, “Providing a path forward through teaching, teamwork and trust.” Our mission is to help Afghan families bridge the gap between initial resettlement and self-sufficiency. Through personal home visits, individual mentoring, sourcing and delivering essential items, providing English classes, and connecting families with community partners, we utilize a vibrant interfaith network of support to welcome refugee families as they integrate, become independent, and find belonging in their new communities.

We have partnered with Essentials First, a Seattle-based, 501c3 nonprofit organization, whose mission is distributing essential hygiene items to low-income families in the state of Washington. We are excited about this collaboration and look forward to collectively making a greater impact! If you are inspired to get more involved, please check out 20 Ways to Welcome New Afghan Families. Or, contact me: Deborah Kassel-Day at dkasselday@gmail.com



20 WAYS TO WELCOME NEW AFGHAN FAMILIES

Families arrive from Afghanistan with very few possessions. They need to acquire basic necessities for the entire family, while simultaneously looking for employment. Their dream is to work hard and provide a safe and secure future for their family. Again and again, these families express their gratitude for friendship and support as they build a foundation for their new life in the United States. In our years of working with newly arrived families, we have found a consistent set of urgent needs. Please reach out to us and together we can choose a project. Thank you for welcoming our newest neighbors! Contact: 1. Contribute to a safe transportation fund. Reliable transportation is crucial for accessing jobs, doctors, and grocery stores. Since refugee families have extremely limited incomes, their first cars are often cheap, old, or unreliable. This fund helps with repairs, tires, and car seats for children. 2. Supply diapers once a month to a family with young children. Disposable diapers are a significant monthly cost for newly arrived and low-income families. A consistent supply alleviates this worry so income can go toward paying rent. 3. Donate a laptop computer, iPad, or phone. Many families are unable to arrive with a computer or even a cell phone. An internet-connected device is vital to search for jobs, take online classes, or assist children with schoolwork. 4. Donate a functioning car to a family that needs one. Since these families arrive with little or no savings, buying their first car is extremely challenging. 5. Provide sturdy bunkbeds with a guardrail and mattresses. Afghan families usually have several children and live in 1- or 2-bedroom apartments. Twin or a twin over full bunkbed are useful for fitting families into a bedroom comfortably. 6. Host a virtual baby shower, or supply items for a newborn. Young families are often expecting babies and have no supplies. A stroller (or a double for an older sibling), layette, bedding, bassinet, car seat, crib, etc. will be used immediately. 7. Provide a laundry basket with household cleaning supplies. Anti-bacterial home cleaning products, hand sanitizer, sanitizer spray, paper towels, toilet paper, dish and laundry soap, broom, mop, sponges or other useful supplies. 8. Donate gift cards (Walmart/Target). Shoes are always needed; families can try on and purchase shoes for their children using gift cards. 9. Consider stepping in with emergency rent support to prevent housing insecurity. Unexpected expenses come up, including job loss and chronic under employment, that make earning enough money for rent a challenge some months. 10. Volunteer to transport furniture if you have a large van or truck. Often families find free furniture on websites or Facebook groups such as Buy Nothing or Offer Up. However, they either don’t have a car, or their car is too small to transport the item they need. Also, our Alliance often needs a way to deliver large items. 11. Provide a new vacuum cleaner, space heater, or Kitchen Aide type mixer. They make most food from scratch. 12. Donate high quality basic kitchen items. Pots and pans, cooking utensils, instant cookers, electric kettles, plates, bowls, cutlery, and storage containers. 13. Sewing machines and sewing kit. Machines, fabric scissors, needle, thread, etc. are requested by many families. 14. Put together a home repair toolbox. Screwdrivers, wrench, measuring tape, hammer, drill, nails, etc. so families can put furniture together and do basic repairs. 15. Provide a basket of children’s books. Both children and adults use these books to practice their English. Good-quality picture books, fiction and nonfiction as well as children’s dictionaries, are always appreciated. We strive to be culturally sensitive and not overly commercial. 16. Donate a bin of Legos. Legos and Duplos (new or used) are a versatile, creative, gender-neutral educational toy the whole family can enjoy. 17. Put together an art kit for children. Drawing pads, markers, colored pencils, coloring books, crayons, playdough, etc. Only high-quality supplies delivered as a complete kit in a plastic bin to fit in limited closet space. 18. Support families who need help navigating information in English. Help read and explain directions, applications, or forms. This can be done remotely. 19. Be a mentor. Help improve someone’s CV/resume for the US job market. 20. Donate gift cards from a Halal food market in South King County.

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