by Zoe Berman, NFTY-TOR Programming Vice President
My favorite version of the prayer Mi Chamocha is a mash up with “Redemption Song,” by Bob Marley. At NFTY-TOR’s Summerpalooza this September, we sang Bob Marley’s words with our arms wrapped around each other, “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?”
Throughout services at Summer Palooza, I felt as though we were not only praying for ourselves, or for our Jewish ancestors escaping from slavery in Egypt. We were also praying for refugees at home and abroad.
This June I was fortunate enough to attend NFTY Mechina, a retreat at the URJ Kutz Camp for NFTY board members from around the country. It was announced that the study theme at Mechina would be Refugee Resettlement. As a movement, NFTY agreed to support refugees through advocacy, education, and by any other means possible. For us on the TOR board, we thought where better to start advocating for refugees and educating our peers than at the first TOR event of the year?
At Summer Palooza, teens had the opportunity to learn about famous celebrities’ were doing to help with the refugee topic as an introduction. Then, there was an opportunity to bring the topic closer to home. Executive Director of Greene Family Camp, Loui Dobin, passionately described everything that GFC does to help refugees. He explained that in the room that we were sitting in for his presentation was the same place that shelters displaced peoples and refugees when necessary. Learning that through Greene Family Camp and NFTY I was so closely involved with something so inspiring is an inexplicable feeling. I felt engaged and impassioned, ready to make a difference.
After Loui gave his talk, each teen at Summer Palooza went through a simulation of the refugee resettlement process. It’s impossible to reenact the hardships of a refugee, but we tried to simulate the difficulty that it is to enter our own country. We as a board also taught how our ancestors have not always been this lucky–during the diaspora, the exodus from Egypt, the Holocaust, and many other instances, the Jewish people were refugees, too. We were once refugees, so we have the ability to empathize and educate others; thus, it becomes our responsibility to do anything we can to make a difference.
Later at Summer Palooza, we passed a resolution written by two inspired TORites, Hannah Bender and Hannah Wallace, stating that we will take action and support refugee resettlement. However, it isn’t easy to help refugees from all over the world. When we saw an opportunity where we could help people and we knew we could make a difference, we immediately decided to do so. At Summerpalooza, we raised $1,486 to help displaced peoples in Baton Rouge due to the flooding.
After Summer Palooza, we hoped to make participants more aware of the crisis and more inspired to do something to help. Now, we hope to bring this awareness further to March on Austin, where participants will have the opportunity to visit Texas’s capital, learn even more about refugee resettlement efforts across Texas, and even lobby state government officials! Throughout the year to come we hope to keep TORites engaged in the refugee crisis. Summerpalooza was only the beginning.
So next time you’re praying for redemption, don’t forget to keep in mind that we’re not the only ones who look to be saved.