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Toward Shabbat: Ki Tissa

I often think of Shabbat as a homecoming at the end of my week. Just as after a long day of work or school or activities, we head back to our homes (or perhaps these days we turn our home offices back into our bedrooms), so too after a long week of work and running around we head into Shabbat, our day of rest—our refuge in time.

In this week’s parashah, Ki Tissa, God commands us to keep Shabbat, promising that Shabbat will be a sign of the covenant between us and God.

בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ׃ 

It shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God ceased from work and was refreshed. 

Just as we return to our homes and families at the end of the day, we return to God and renew our covenant every week on Shabbat. The great hasidic master, the Sefat Emet, teaches on this week’s parashah:

All week long we should look forward to this turning to our root and the place of our rest, since this is where we truly live. 

Shabbat is a homecoming to God and to one another, an embrace of love. Shabbat is the home in which we “truly live”.

Thinking about Shabbat as a type of home has more significance this week. This Shabbat is HIAS’ annual Refugee Shabbat—a Shabbat when we, together with Jewish communities and individuals around the country and globe, dedicate our Shabbat to refugees and asylum seekers—to those who no longer have a home. A Shabbat when we open our eyes to the 80 million people displaced, who have been forced to leave their homes due to persecution and violence. 25 hours when we open our hearts to these people recognizing that 40% of them are children, and 26.4 million of them are refugees. A Shabbat when we no longer shield ourselves from the reality that these numbers are the highest they have ever been in the history of humanity.

But we know and can’t forget that these numbers are made up of individuals, families, and communities. As the psalmist declared:

מוֹנֶ֣ה מִ֭סְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִ֑ים לְ֝כֻלָּ֗ם שֵׁמ֥וֹת יִקְרָֽא 

God counted the number of the stars; and called them each by name 

These refugees are our grandparents or perhaps our mothers and fathers; the person behind the mask delivering our groceries, or the soul shining through the eyes of the person who helps care for our children. They are Noyemi who lives in fear in Mexico praying that the new administration will reunite her with her now six-year-old son after he was ripped out of her arms three years ago at the U.S. border. They are three-year-old Alan Kurdi, lying dead on the seashore fully clothed with his shoes still on his feet.

Here at BJ we are committed to fighting for justice on a policy level as well as seeing and caring for individual refugees and asylum seekers. For the past five years, our Refugee and Immigration Committee has partnered with refugee resettlement agencies and immigrant support groups to provide pro bono legal services, job skills training and employment mentorship to refugees and asylum seekers, direct support to families, and accompaniment to undocumented immigrants. We have raised our voice in protest, declared ourselves a Sanctuary Congregation, met with our elected leaders, and catalyzed the engagement of dozens of synagogues as a founding member of the Synagogue Coalition on the Refugee and Immigration Crisis. Now, the needs have changed– but they are still numerous. President Biden has committed to raising the Refugee Resettlement Cap from its current historic low of 15,000 to 125,000 in 2022, meaning an increase in the number of refugees being resettled in New York City. The Refugee Employment Partnership, a collaborative project of BJ and Rutgers Presbyterian Church will continue its work of  matching mentors with refugees and asylum seekers to support them in both getting hired and staying in their jobs. Additionally, our Family Support Team will continue to  support individual families who are resettled in New York City with everything they need: from tutoring and child supplies to navigating the healthcare system and purchasing groceries. We invite you to learn more about our work and how you can get involved below.

Shabbat is not a time when we retreat into our homes and close the door. Shabbat is a time when we open our homes to others. When we commit again to our values of welcoming guests, caring for the widow and the orphan, supporting one another in community, and remembering that each and every one of us is made in the image of the Divine—that every human being on this Earth houses a spark of holiness. This Shabbat we recognize that just as God created Shabbat as our weekly home—a place of safety, solace, renewal—we are commanded not only to imitate God in our celebration of this holy day, but also to ensure that the refugees and asylum seekers in our world today have a place they too can call home.

Shabbat shalom