Practicing Ahavat Ger: What Loving A Stranger Can Look Like
Robyn Shapiro- AJPR Committee member shopping for groceries to give to newly arrived refugee families. Courtesy: Angelica Gomez
Since Angelica was a child, she had a strong sense of feeling connected to everyone around her. When she moved to the U.S. from Honduras at the age of 10, she could see that despite the differences in language, food, clothing, music, and overall culture, peopler were all the same.
She noticed her new classmates just wanted to feel like they belonged, make friends, and learn, just as her classmates in Honduras did. She saw her parents worked hard to provide food and shelter for her family just as she had seen the coffee growers and farmers of her hometown do for their families. Everywhere around her, she saw people who wanted to be loved, have freedom, and live with dignity.
She was a stranger in the land and was welcomed and helped by many charities and programs. Now, as part of Jewish Family Service, Angelica is the one helping to welcome the stranger and she now has a different term she uses to describe her work – “ahavat ger,” which means, “loving the stranger.” Angelica learned this phrase from her partners at Austin Jews and Partners for Refugees, who she works hand in hand with every day, primarily through their work with Afghan refugees. AJPR, together with JFS, provides a loving and holistic embrace to refugees, fulfilling the commandment of ahavat ger through the Salaam Neighbors program.
Last year, about 1,000 Afghan refugees came to Austin. While most people were still adjusting to a world with COVID, scores of people were fleeing their homes, leaving loved ones behind, and starting over in a country that was unprepared to welcome them. Although many lived in hotels, organizations such as Refugee Services of Texas and AJPR helped them find housing.
In 2021, AJPR was a relatively new organization, but the committee members had been helping refugees for many years. AJPR was involved in airport picks up, picking up donated items to help furnish apartments, cooking Halal meals, helping families get cellphones and laptops, and many other services. Additionally, hundreds of volunteers began the work of assisting these refugees acclimate to American culture and life in Texas.
All of the work AJPR did would not have been possible without the help of volunteers. It is not uncommon to find a volunteer in their car waiting to take a refugee family to their doctor’s appointment, sitting next to them on the floor of their house helping them enroll the families in ESL classes, or on the phone calling the different community resources such as immigration lawyers to help the families apply for asylum.
Jewish Family Service, in partnership with AJPR and RST, is doing their part in welcoming the stranger by helping recruit and train volunteers to be part of Salaam Neighbors, a program that helps the neediest refugee families with support for three to six months. This involves financial support through a grant by the Shapiro Foundation and Jewish Federations of North America. Support also includes connecting refugee families with existing resources and partnering them with volunteers who can assist them with an array of things such as, employment, education, and finding affordable housing.
Angelica says, “we hope that collectively, we can help our fellow brothers and sisters experience love, freedom, and dignity in their new home, fulfilling our responsibility of ahavat ger, welcoming and embracing the strangers among us.”
To learn more about volunteering, contact Angelica Gomez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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