September - Welcoming the Stranger


September – Welcoming the Stranger



The “Stranger” and Judaism

The Torah commands us no less than 36 times to treat the stranger with compassion. One of the most famous verses in Torah is “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). In addition, our tradition upholds the idea of pikuach nefesh – the sacred duty to protect human life.

As Jews, we know from our history what it means to be displaced and we have experienced what it means to be considered “the other”. This is why we see the plight of all those who come to the United States seeking safety and a better life for their families as a human rights issue rather than a political one.

Temple Beth-El has a long and rich history of standing up for basic human rights. This month’s NEFESH focus on “Welcoming the Stranger” provides many opportunities to show compassion and offer tangible humanitarian support to those in need.


Below you will find some words that might prove useful throughout this NEFESH toolkit. Often, terms regarding this issue can be unclear or prove difficult to understand. All definitions are taken from the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For more terms and their definitions visit here.

  • Alien
    • “Any person not a citizen or national of the United States.”
  • Asylee
    • “An alien in the United States or at a port of entry who is found to be unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality, or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.”
  • Beneficiaries
    • “Aliens on whose behalf a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or employer have filed a petition for such aliens to receive immigration benefits from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
  • Immigrant/Permanent Resident Alien
    • “An alien admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. Permanent residents are also commonly referred to as immigrants.”
  • Legalized Aliens
    • “Certain illegal aliens who were eligible to apply for temporary resident status under the legalization provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986”
  • Migrant
    • “A person who leaves his/her country of origin to seek residence in another country.”
  • Refugee
    • “Any person who is outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or the fear thereof must be based on the alien's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”



  • Film:
    • Human Flow (2017)
      • More than 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war, the greatest displacement since World War II. Filmmaker Ai Weiwei examines the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Over the course of one year in 23 countries, Weiwei follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretch across the globe, including Afghanistan, France, Greece, Germany and Iraq.
    • District 9 (2009)
      • Thirty years ago, aliens arrive on Earth -- not to conquer or give aid, but -- to find refuge from their dying planet.
    • Migrant Dreams (2016)
      • The often-untold story of migrant agricultural workers who are struggling under Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
    • The Other Side of Immigration (2010)
      • “Through interviews with people in Mexican towns where up to half of the population has gone to work in the United States, the film looks at the social, economic, and political causes of migration from Mexico to the US, as well as the impact of remittances in Mexican communities and the effects of emigration on families.”
    • Brooklyn (2015)
      • Young Irish immigrant Eilis Lace (Saoirse Ronan) navigates her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother's home for the shores of New York City.
    • Underwater Dreams (2014)
      • The sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learn how to build underwater robots.
    • Under the Same Moon (2007)
      • “Single mother leaves her young son, Carlitos, in the care of his grandmother and illegally crosses the border into the U.S. Though she hopes to eventually make a better life for herself and her son, she toils in a dead-end job as a cleaning lady in Los Angeles. When Carlitos' grandmother passes away some years later, the boy begins a difficult and dangerous journey to join her.”
    • This is Home: A Refugee Story (2018)
      • Four Syrian families struggle to find their way in America.
    • Fire at Sea (2016)
      • “Shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis. Fire and Sea sets the migrants' dangerous Mediterranean crossing against a background of the ordinary life of the islanders.”
    • For more: 11 Documentaries About Immigrants Everyone Should Watch Right Now
  • ELITalks: (Allows individuals and organizations to cultivate, transmit, and curate Jewish ideas and thoughts through digital conversations.)  
  • TED Talks:
  • Books:
    • “Refugee” by Alan Gratz
      • The book revolves around three main characters from three different eras: Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and modern Syria.
    • “The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis” by Patrick Kingsley
      • “Europe is facing a wave of migration unmatched since the end of World War II - and no one has reported on this crisis in more depth or breadth than the Guardian's migration correspondent, Patrick Kingsley. Throughout 2015, Kingsley travelled to 17 countries along the migrant trail, meeting hundreds of refugees making epic odysseys across deserts, seas and mountains to reach the holy grail of Europe.”
    • “A Nation of Immigrants” by John F. Kennedy
      • “A Nation of Immigrants is a 1958 book on American immigration by then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts”
    •  “Violent Borders” by Reece Jones
      • “Forty thousand people have died trying to cross between countries in the past decade, and yet international borders only continue to harden.”
    • “Behold the Dreamers” by Imbolo Mbue
      • “The novel details the experiences of two New York City families during the 2008 financial crisis: an immigrant family from Cameroon, the Jonga family, and their wealthy employers, the Edwards family.”
    • “A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America” by Aristide R. Zolberg
      • “According to the national mythology, the United States has long opened its doors to people from across the globe, providing a port in a storm and opportunity for any who seek it. Yet the history of immigration to the United States is far different.”
    • “’They Take Our Jobs!’ and 20 Other Myths About Immigration” by Aviva Chomsky
      • “Challenges the underlying assumptions that fuel misinformed claims about immigrants, radically altering our notions of citizenship, discrimination, and US history.”
    • “Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok
      • “Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, an inspiring debut about an immigrant girl forced to choose between two worlds and two futures.”
    • More books to understand the refugee experience
    • For children:
      • PJ Library
      • “Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales (located in our Temple library!)
        • “In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the US with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn't come empty-handed. She brought her strength, her work, her passion, her hopes and dreams...and her stories.”
      • One Green Apple” by Eve Buting
        • Farah feels alone, even when surrounded by her classmates. She listens and nods but doesn’t speak. It’s hard being the new kid in school, especially when you’re from another country and don’t know the language.


  • Locally:
    • Support
    • Events
      • Beginning in September, Temple Beth-El will be volunteering once a month at the Overnight Migrant Shelter located at Travis Park Church. The Migrant Shelter has sheltered over 15,000 documented migrants since March 2019. It offers a safe place for migrants to sleep and eat before they continue their journey to the next destination. We will be volunteering on the fourth Tuesday of every month, from 7:30pm to 10:30pm. You can sign up for a shift by clicking here. Contact Ross Halfant for more details.
      • On Thursday, September 12th at 7:00pm Temple Beth-El will host Tino Gallegos, the Immigration Liaison for the City of San Antonio. Mr. Gallegos will be giving a presentation on the history of the immigration crisis (including child separation) in the United States, Texas, and San Antonio. RSVP through the following link:
      • Temple Beth-El also participates in monthly backpacking assemblies at Divino Nino Church. This project is being sponsored by the Interfaith Welcome Coalition. As volunteers, we will help pack bags that will be given to documented migrants on their journey. Donate items specifically for backpack assembly here.
      • If you are interested in donating items to IWC, visit their wishlist.
  • Prayer/Spirituality

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