Milwaukee’s Sher Hadash community resettles refugees displaced by the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August, in the Harambe/River West area of Milwaukee.
“Sher has adopted two families,” said Rabbi Michael Wall, the spiritual leader of Sher Hadash. She hopes to take more.
Advocates say thousands of refugee families now in need of resettlement are living on US bases, having worked with US forces in Afghanistan.
In an interview in late December, Rabbi Michael Wall said she expected the Shree Hadash congregation and its volunteer members to settle two families. in a duplex in Harambe/River West by January 1, 2022. One family includes a baby born in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, who is a new US citizen, and volunteers have purchased a cot.
“I will tell you, these days between politics and COVID, to have something immediate, tangible, personal to do, feels like a gift,” Wall said. “really no.”
Sher Hadash is working in coordination with local agencies and hopes to resettle more families.
“This is going really fast,” Wall said, in a phone interview while painting a double-sided cabinet. “We support two families – we furnished their apartments and coordinated their needs for their settlement in Milwaukee.”
Wall said refugees need access to jobs, education, English language learning, and government services. Sher Hadash volunteers and local agencies can help.
Wall said volunteers are giving away food, household items and furniture as gifts so that the limited resources that come from the government will last longer. Among the devotees of Sher Hadash who worked in the duplexes were Susan Elman, Davey Singer, David Wingroad and Kay Gardner Mishlove. Maureen Kidd, owner of the double bricks, also volunteered.
Wall said she expects her subjects to help “transport and acclimatize and teach them how to familiarize themselves with the bus system and have conversations if they want to work on their English.”
“I think a lot of that accompanies them when they have a lot of appointments and meetings, so they don’t do it alone,” she added.
Gardner Mishlove, director of the Jewish Community Relations Board at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, is a member of Sher Hadash and has been a personal volunteer. Gardner Mishlov previously worked on refugee resettlement. She said she is willing to provide information and assistance to anyone else seeking work on refugee issues.
The newly formed Wisconsin Jews for Refugees serves as a clearinghouse for information and has aided Sher Hadash’s efforts.
“It is mentioned in the Torah 36 times that we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” said Linda Frank, one of the leaders of the Wisconsin Jewish Refugee Organization. “We have been strangers in all lands throughout our history. We have cherished the places that have welcomed us, and although we are not, it is not Jewish immigration at this point, these are still strangers, and these are the people who have committed themselves to helping our people, the United States, the people of our country, Our country’s effort. No matter what one thinks or not, it’s been a 20-year effort, and these people risked their lives for us.”
Other Milwaukee Efforts
According to Frank and Gardner Mishlove, there have been many other efforts within the Jewish community in the Milwaukee area to help Afghan refugees. This is a partial list:
- Volunteer to help Lutheran Social Services, a resettlement agency
- Volunteer to help Hanan Refugee Relief, an Islamic group in Wisconsin that works to help refugees
- A fundraising drive from the Council on Jewish Community Relations, in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
- Volunteering for the local Salam Shalom fraternity
- Stephen and Robin Arnzon of Wisconsin Knitwear donated hundreds of hats.
There has also been significant activity in Madison, where Jewish social services are associated with HIAS as a resettlement agency.
Jewish national efforts
HIAS, the national refugee agency formally known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has a program to empower informal groups of people from within Jewish communities, so they can resettle refugees. Milwaukee groups have considered applying for the program, according to local refugee advocates.
International Humanitarian Aid has created a “Welcome Circle” program for Jewish community volunteers, to help deal with the huge number of Afghan refugees in need of resettlement. The HIAS program is a subset of the federal “Afghan Shepherd’s Circle Program” announced in October by the US Department of State.
Refugee advocates say the nationwide constituency system is necessary because of the large number of displaced Afghan families and because resettlement agencies lost staff and capacity during the Trump administration when refugee resettlement declined sharply.
“We’ve had a lot of interest so far,” Isabelle Burton, Senior Director of Community Engagement Initiatives at HIAS, said in mid-December. “We have about 15 groupings/coalitions across the country who have told us they are going to apply to become a welcome constituency and we are in talks with at least 20 others who are thinking hard. Three circular applications have been formally submitted so far. This is just from the first wave of outreach.”