Bnai Keshet welcomed 10 newly arrived Syrian Muslim refugee families with a Jewish Christmas Day Chinese dinner. More than 130 adults and children, including translators, congregants and Montclair residents, attended and got to know one another.
Conceived of to counter the anti-Muslim rhetoric of absentee NJ Governor Chris Christie, the event went beyond breaking bread. Guests eagerly asked about potential job contacts, ways to learn English as a second language and how best to advocate in the public schools.
Bnai Keshet Rabbi Elliott Tepperman spoke, with the help of an interpreter, of the borders his grandfather had to cross at the age of 14 to be reunited with his family. “The room was packed and at every table American Jews and Syrian Refugees were smiling and trying to communicate,” Tepperman said. “Everyone had name tags in English, Hebrew and Arabic and with very few words beyond each other’s names, extraordinary warmth and gratitude was expressed.”
Many Bnai Keshet members have family histories of fleeing warfare and violence, seeking asylum in lands that were not always welcoming. The Syrian families Bnai Keshet’s welcoming were recently resettled in Elizabeth, NJ by the International Refugee Committee. More recently, an additional Syrian family was resettled in Paterson by Church World Service, amid controversy sparked by Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to block them from entering the state.