In December 2017, the B’nai Jeshurun Board of Trustees unanimously voted to declare BJ a sanctuary congregation, one that will stand by immigrant communities in this country.
By making this formal declaration, we have added our name to the list of faith institutions across the U.S., including over 40 synagogues, who have publicly affirmed their religious commitment to keep America a safe and welcoming home.
Historically, “sanctuary” referred to a congregation that was prepared to harbor undocumented immigrants on the congregation’s premises. Today, the definition of a sanctuary congregation has been expanded to include congregations that are not providing physical sanctuary but are providing support in other ways. BJ has partnered with a number of organizations, including New Sanctuary Coalition, and the Church of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew (SPSA), to support undocumented immigrants.
The New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) accompaniment program recruits and trains volunteers to accompany people facing deportation to their immigration hearings and ICE check-ins. This provides moral support to the person facing deportation and enables volunteers to hold immigration authorities accountable. Standing in solidarity with migrants facing deportation also demonstrates to immigration judges, ICE officers, and government attorneys that there is a community mobilized against their deportation.
BJ has hosted several accompaniment trainings, and our members participate in accompaniments.
In the summer of 2019, during a time of increased threats to undocumented immigrants, our partners asked local congregations in targeted cities to serve as short-term sanctuary locations. Taking sanctuary in a house of worship may be useful for a short time (a few hours, a day, or an overnight stay) to help an immigrant feel safe and calm, rather than panicked, and to get information on what to do next, so they can make reasonable plans. This would usually happen in the event of immigration raids or acts of hate occurring in the area. BJ is a short-term sanctuary site, approved to offer short-term sanctuary to individuals who are in need of refuge for a brief period of time.
Direct Support for Undocumented Immigrants
When our partner SPSA provided sanctuary to Debora, an undocumented immigrant, and her daughter, BJ members joined the support team; we brought meals, shopped for groceries, and provided other resources. We also participated in visits and vigils at ICE offices to request a stay of deportation, while Debora’s legal team worked on her case. We are thrilled that in the fall of 2019, Debora’s appeal for asylum was reopened, and she has been granted a stay of deportation until her case is heard! Debora and her daughter have been reunited with the rest of their family outside of New York City.