Welcoming the Stranger

Nine to ten years ago, when I walked through the doors of CBI, I too was basically a stranger. But not for long.  I was welcomed with open arms and made to feel like family from the very start.

Over the course of the MLK Birthday week-end, CBI opened its doors to many refugees and immigrants, starting with a wonderful Shabbat dinner and services, followed by a weekend of speakers who deal with immigrant issues and refugee services. 

This wonderful week-end was the brainchild of Rabbi Epstein and made a success through her and her committee, chaired by Melissa Pepper, not to mention a lot of willing volunteers.

I asked Melissa and Rabbi Epstein to tell me some of the challenges involved with organizing the event.  

For Rabbi Epstein, it started with the 2016 Elections, and wanting to do something positive that would make a difference. This desire led Rabbi Epstein to contact Rabbi David Segal of the Religious Action Center (whom she knew through Rabbinical School) to discuss immigration/refugee issues and interfaith social justice. 

The dinner was to open the doors and bring folks together. Since a lot of the recent refugees were new, it wasn’t known how many folks would show up, but the response was incredible, and it was wonderful seeing people talk about what they faced in their home countries, as well as CBI members relating stories of when their ancestors were refugees. 

Rabbi Epstein found most of the presenters, and got CBI connected with the RAC (Religious Action Center) through Rabbi Segal. Even when there were glitches, everyone was very patient.

People were very hands-on, and even people who weren’t on the committee were going above and beyond. One volunteer from Beth Shalom took it upon herself to coordinate the speakers, do press releases, and otherwise help make the event a success.

Many of the attendees had only positive things to say, and some even asked to be on next year’s committee. People were impressed with the quality of speakers. The event ended up being more like a conference.

Some of the speakers included Mayor Steve Adler; Dr. Robert Abzug, Regent Chair of Jewish Studies at U.T; Julian Aguilar, a freelance reporter for the Tribune, reporting on politics and border affairs; and Joseph Chacon, Assistant Chief with APD, just to name a few.

If it’s anything like this year’s, I look forward to next year’s event!

- Carol Calvery