In October 2017, Andrea Soroko Naar and Diane Baer were at the annual fundraiser for Casa Latina, which provides English language classes, job training, and a day worker center for Latinx immigrants. During the gala affair, speakers thanked their supporters for protesting inhumane conditions at the Northwest Immigrant Detention Center in Tacoma and offering sanctuary to undocumented individuals facing deportation. Christian and Muslim groups were given shout-outs for their support of the organization, as well. Soroko Naar and Baer left the Westin Hotel that night resolved to bring Jewish groups up to speed with the movement.

A month later, five people gathered in Kadima member Dina Burstein’s Capitol Hill living room, and what became the Jewish Coalition for Immigrant Justice Northwest was born. The loosely defined organization, which includes members from a swath of congregations including Kavana, Bet Alef, Eitz Or, Temple Beth Am, Kol HaNeshamah, Congregation Beth Shalom, and Kadima, serves as an umbrella to amplify efforts in the local Jewish community. It worked with Beth Shalom, for one, to host a modern-day exodus Passover event in April, at which refugees and asylum speakers from Central America and Egypt shared their experiences. It also mobilized to support José Robles, the Mexican father who spent a year in sanctuary in downtown Seattle’s Gethsemane Lutheran Church before being detained by ICE in July.

The group can point to several concrete contributions that local Jews have made to support migrants during the worst global refugee crisis since World War II, including assisting them during legal proceedings and setting them up with housing. 

When asylum seekers or those facing deportation proceedings are held in detention, their bond is usually set between $5,000 and $12,500. Immigrant families rarely have that much cash on hand, but experience shows that their chances of winning their case improve as much as twentyfold if they can get bonded out.

To that end, the Coalition has made raising bond money a priority. The bonds help people in detention prepare for court, which is nearly impossible from inside the privately run, for-profit immigrant detention centers, where phone calls cost 10–15 cents a minute and the most detainees can earn inside is $1 per day.

A pre-Hanukkah party last year raised $52,000 for a bond fund. This year’s fall fundraiser, titled Lech Lecha Go Forth: Fight for Immigrants’ Freedom, set for November 16, will focus on raising bond money again.

Jewish families in Seattle have also taken in several asylum seekers. During the High Holidays last year, coalition co-founder and Kol HaNeshamah tikkun olam committee chair Katie Harris requested help settling a Honduran couple and their toddler. Some 50 families answered the call, from the owner of a West Seattle house who allowed the family to live rent-free, to other members who cleaned and furnished the home, to those making monthly contributions to pay for groceries and ORCA cards.

“We were absolutely humbled and blown away by the number of people who participated,” Harris says. “People’s own families experienced this, so it was very meaningful.”

Such is the case of Nancy Simon and Mark Igra, Beth Shalom members who are hosting two Guatemalan brothers who entered the United States as unaccompanied minors. “My dad was separated from his parents in the 1940s, similar to how today’s child migrants are separated from theirs,” Igra says.

“It’s the unusual Jewish person that doesn’t have a special twinge in their heart about this issue,” says Burstein, whose grandmother and aunt hid in a root cellar to survive a pogrom in Eastern Europe and whose husband’s grandmother perished in the Holocaust. “For so many of us, our DNA experienced this horror just a few generations back.”

Soroko Naar believes the recurring resonance of such stories drives Jewish support for migrants. “In the Jewish experience, so many Jews and families can connect to the story of having to flee one’s country and seek refuge elsewhere,” she says. “They have looked to the places they have arrived with the hope of being welcomed and safe, as well as having hope for a future for their families. This can still and should be that country.”

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