HIAS director of education speaks at Temple Sinai about global refugee crisis

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Rabbi Michael A. White and his former rabbinic intern, Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, director of education for community building at HIAS. (Photo courtesy of Temple Sinai)

On Dec. 13, Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, director of education for community engagement at HIAS, addressed a large group at Temple Sinai of Roslyn about the global refugee crisis and the Jewish obligation to help. Grant Meyer, a former Rabbinic Intern at Temple Sinai, delivered an eye-opening presentation on the current status of refugees worldwide and what HIAS has been doing to address the situation.

Once known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS was founded in 1881 to help Jews escaping Russian pogroms. Since its inception, HIAS has worked on behalf of refugees, immigrants, asylum-seekers and displaced persons; in the early 2000s, the organization expanded beyond helping Jews to assisting vulnerable people worldwide. Today, there are more than 65 million displaced people across the globe – more than at any time in our recorded history.

During Grant Meyer’s engaging talk, she described the ways in which HIAS is responding to the current crisis, both domestically and internationally. In the U.S., HIAS helps refugees find housing, enroll in schools and educational programs, and secure health care, tasks that have become more and more difficult as fewer refugees have been allowed into the U.S. HIAS also advocates for refugee rights directly on Capitol Hill.

With its roots firmly planted in the Jewish community, Grant Meyer explained why mobilizing American Jews is so important. Because of their history and values, the Jewish people have a unique connection to these most vulnerable people. 

“Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer’s presentation reminded us that as Jews our obligation to welcome the stranger, the refugee and the asylum seeker is an urgent mitzvah,” explained Temple Sinai senior Rabbi Michael White. “In this era of divisiveness and bigotry, her words were important and inspiring.”

As Grant Meyer has said, HIAS assists refugees “not because they’re Jewish, but because we’re Jewish.” 

Temple Sinai Board President Richard Evans was struck by a story Grant Meyer shared about her own family history. Grant Meyer’s great-grandmother, for whom she was named, fled the pogroms and then was one of the few women to survive the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

“Her grandmother testified against the factory owners via a Yiddish translator during the trial,” Evans said. “As a result, fire safety laws were enacted that are still in effect today. This is just one example of an important contribution immigrants have made to this country.”

Grant Meyer explained that “the work I do [at HIAS] as her namesake honors her legacy.”

In closing, Grant Meyer reminded the Temple Sinai audience that “‘never again’ means never again for everyone.”

Temple Sinai is a reform congregation on Long Island, located at 425 Roslyn Road, Roslyn Heights, NY. For more information about Temple Sinai or its programs, please contact Alison Stamm, executive director at (516) 621-6800 or visit at mysinai.org.

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