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IL Synagogue That Sponsored Some Of Last Syrian Refugees Before Ban Fights On

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jan 31, 2017 6:15PM

Am Shalom / Facebook

The bitterest irony for many who oppose Donald Trump’s immigration and refugee ban was the fact that it was signed into action on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that serves as a reminder of the vital need to welcome endangered, persecuted groups.

It was a Reform synagogue in Glencoe, Illinois, in fact, that mobilized to welcome and provide for one of the last Syrian refugees to arrive before Trump's executive order. In a now-iconic photo, more than a dozen congregants from Am Shalom were pictured at O'Hare International Airport on Friday waiting for the refugee family that they sponsored or co-sponsored.

“There’s definitely a sense of solidarity between our own little community and refugees in general,” Taylor Clearfield, of Morton Grove, told Chicagoist. “Our congregation has many descendants of refugees or people who are refuges themselves. We feel for them on a personal level.”

“Welcoming the stranger is part of the Jewish community. It’s our charge and our responsibility to do this work,” said Alyssa Latala, director of communications of Am Shalom, which also sponsored families from Cambodia and Chile in the past.

Clearfield’s mother, Laura Horn, who serves as the associate executive director of Am Shalom, and other senior staff felt the urgent need to help sponsor a refugee after the election of Donald Trump. The synagogue reached to RefugeeOne, a Chicago-based organization that helps settle refugees in the area, who hustled as inauguration neared to make sure the refugee family would gain entry. The congregants lent a hand in ways big and small, raising enough to furnish two apartments for the refugee family and offering basic help, such as giving instructions about how to use public transportation. Soon, donations were flooding in, doctors were offering pro bono service and a larger network of outreach emerged.

“It was pretty amazing,” Clearfield said of the family’s arrival and acclimation. “Bittersweet,” she added, choking up with emotion.

Even as Trump’s refugee ban limits the amount of assistance one can directly offer Syrian refugees, Am Shalom congregants remain fiercely mobilized. Clearfield attended the massive rally at O’Hare in Saturday with her husband and one-year-old daughter. “The fact so many people want to do something is heartening,” she said. “We’ll keep putting pressure on state and local politicians and continue to make our voices heard.”

RefugeeOne has also come out with resolve. “We are devastated by this executive action. Nations are judged by how they treat the most vulnerable—the widow, the orphan, and the refugee,” Executive Director Melineh Kano said in a statement. “We will continue to support and advocate for Chicago’s resilient refugee community and refugees across the globe.”

The refugee-resettlement group is requesting donations for the nearly 1,000 people it brought to Chicago last year who “still need your help."