People around the world were struck by tragic images depicting thousands of Afghan citizens fleeing their own country last August. Locally, congregants at Congregation Sons of Israel (CSI) in Briarcliff Manor immediately felt the need to join in with other local organizations to help resettle Afghan refugees who had been placed on military bases upon their arrival in the U.S. and had no connections to help them resettle here.
Briarcliff Manor resident Julie Peskoe, who is co-chair of CSI’s Refugee Resettlement Committee, says she discussed how CSI could help an Afghan refugee family get settled in the area with fellow Briarcliff Manor resident and co-chair Abbe Marcus last September. “We thought this would be something that would be really great as a community building activity and would resonate with the CSI congregation,” says Peskoe.
After getting the support of CSI Rabbi Steven Kane and Clare Rosen, president of the synagogue’s board, the two went to work on establishing the CSI Refugee Resettlement Committee. “First we talked with other local resettlement groups, including the Northern Westchester Coalition for Refugees and Ossining for Refugees, to gather information on how we could help out,” says Peskoe.
Peskoe and Marcus then reached out to members of their synagogue and got an enormous amount of interest from congregants who wanted to join the resettlement committee. About 40 people came to the first meeting last November, which was both virtual and in-person. “We spent half of the meeting with people sharing their stories of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents being refugees. Almost everybody spoke and many got very emotional when they shared their stories about their families coming to the U.S. and needing help to resettle or struggling because they didn’t have help,” says Peskoe
The second half of the meeting was spent discussing how to move forward and organize into committees. “We have committees working on important components of settling a refugee family, such as finding housing and employment, developing community connections, gathering furnishings and clothing, arranging for healthcare, and providing food. We also have finance and fundraising committees,” says Peskoe.
The next step to becoming a community sponsorship organization was to get an affiliate partnership. CSI’s resettlement committee chose to work with HIAS, the oldest of nine federally-recognized resettlement agencies. “Originally HIAS stood for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and many parents and grandparents of CSI congregation members were settled by HIAS when they came from Eastern Europe,” says Peskoe. (Starting in the 2000s, HIAS expanded its resettlement work to include assistance to non-Jewish refugees.)
The CSI resettlement committee has been meeting every two weeks to prepare for the arrival of the refugee family from Afghanistan in early February and has raised close to their goal of $40,000 to finance their efforts. The committee has also gone through extensive HIAS training designed to share best practices, as well as to give volunteers a feeling of what it’s going to be like for the refugee family and what the refugee family is likely to need from the community.
According to Peskoe, “Our goal is for the family to live in Ossining because they will initially need to count on public transportation and local resources. It’s easy to walk to the grocery store and train station, and there is also bus transportation.” Ossining is also ideal because it has good schools and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) services. In addition, Open Door Family Medical Center is there and can provide healthcare and wellness services, as is a local office of Mount Kisco-based Neighbors Link, which helps integrate immigrants into the community.
“We really think Ossining would be perfect. In the beginning, before the family is oriented to the community, volunteers who have had background checks can drive the family to doctor’s appointments and job interviews. Since most of our volunteers live close to CSI, from Tarrytown to Croton, we would like to have the family local so we can best support them,” says Peskoe.
If the public would like to contribute household items, serve on a committee, or make a donation, they can email email@example.com or visit https://www.csibriarcliff.org/resettlement. Checks can be made out to CSI-Resettlement and mailed to the CSI Refugee Resettlement Committee, Congregation Sons of Israel, 1666 Pleasantville Road, Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510.
Laura Joseph Mogil is a freelance writer residing in Briarcliff Manor, NY.