I joined the Stephen Wise community as the synagogue’s social justice program associate just three weeks ago, but I’m already struck by the congregation’s unrelenting commitment to social action.
Most recently, I was so inspired to see our community come together to donate $13,000 and thousands of critically needed supplies to refugee relief efforts in Greece and Germany, and to read updates from our members who travelled to refugee shelters in Europe to learn firsthand about the largest refugee crisis in history.
Here in New York City, our Immigration and Refugees Task Force is partnering with HIAS — the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Coalition — to commemorate the S.S. St. Louis in a vigil on June 6 in coordination with vigils around the country. On June 6, 1939, the S.S. St. Louis, a German ocean liner, was turned away from the United States with 937 Jewish refugees on board. Over a quarter of these refugees — 254 of them — died in concentration camps. If they had been able to seek refuge in the United States, some might be alive today.
As Jews, we know the tragic consequences of eliminating pathways to safety for refugees. Here’s why it’s critical that we come together to prevent this dark moment of history from happening again.
The current refugee crisis has reached historic heights, yet the US government is threatening to reduce support for refugees here and abroad. The number of displaced people in the world is at its highest ever, surpassing even post-World War II numbers. But two executive orders seeking to halt refugee admissions were released, and Congress has launched various legislative attacks against refugees. These policies could destroy this country’s legacy of welcoming refugees.
When we say “Never Again,” we cannot stand just for the Jewish people. An unrelenting urgency and connection to healing the world is my personal interpretation of Judaism, and I know that I am not alone in remembering the tragedies of World War II and the Holocaust. That is why I am devoting June 6 to remembering the S.S. Louis, and why in the same breath, I am committing to stand with Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in acting now for refugees.
For over 100 years, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue has fought for social justice. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the synagogue’s founder, cofounded the NAACP in 1914 and served as a member of President Roosevelt’s Advisory Commission on Political Refugees from 1938 to 1945. We were among the first synagogues to house and operate a shelter for the homeless, and we were the first synagogue in the United States to appoint a female rabbi. Let’s sustain and strengthen this remarkable legacy.
I am committed to remembering the S.S. St. Louis and standing with Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on June 6 to fight for refugees. Will you join us?
The HIAS Candlelight Vigil to remember victims of the S.S. St. Louis will take place on June 6 at 6:30 p.m. at 780 Third Avenue at 48th Street, in front of the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. Look for Rachael and the “Stephen Wise Free Synagogue For Refugees” banner. To RSVP or contact Rachael, email her at email@example.com or call 212-877-4050, ext. 263.