On Aug. 8, 2023, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency regarding the lack of shelter and services for migrant families arriving in Massachusetts. Several Jewish organizations that are supported by CJP leapt into action to directly support the families, spurred by a deep sense of Jewish values.

The Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA) has been actively working with and supporting immigrant organizations for years. In early August, JALSA CEO Cindy Rowe received an urgent weekend email: “All Hands on Deck: Emergency Meeting for Family Shelter, Affordable Housing, and Services” from Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, along with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

JALSA was invited to an intimate meeting with top Massachusetts lawmakers. It was time to act. So, Rowe quickly coordinated with Jewish Family Service of Metrowest (JFS), the only Jewish organization handling refugee and asylum work in all of Eastern Massachusetts and Worcester—which is currently caring for 52 families, including babies and children. At the meeting, Rowe offered policy suggestions based on JFS’s experience, later going to the Massachusetts State House for Healey’s official declaration.

“JALSA will be there, fully showing up with our faith-based values and providing our policy and legal expertise in this time of emergency need for migrant families,” Rowe says. “Our big mission is to pursue social, economic, environmental and racial justice through community organizing, and advocacy, education and legal strategies. We’re steeped in immigration because it’s connected to our Jewish values. It’s about treating all people with dignity and respect, loving our neighbors as ourselves and the pursuit of justice.”

In addition to the essential public policy strategy and community organizing efforts, there’s also an overarching sense of social justice that permeates the work. Many families arrive here scared and displaced, without basic necessities—emotional and otherwise. Some are afraid of backlash and hatred. It’s a destabilizing, frightening experience that these organizations seek to ameliorate.

“We want migrant families to understand that they’re welcome in our commonwealth, that our communities are looking forward to them being part of our neighborhoods, their children coming to our schools and them enriching our communities,” Rowe says. “We also want to send the message that acts of hate by extremist groups will not be tolerated in our state. That’s not who we are.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) is also closely involved in the effort, mobilizing congregation volunteers—both churches and synagogues—to work on immigrant solidarity efforts. While the emergency declaration swung their work into even sharper focus, this is an ongoing mission with a storied history, says Rachie Lewis, director of synagogue organizing for JCRC.

“When the crisis in Afghanistan happened and Kabul fell, we were engaged in welcoming Afghan individuals and families who were fleeing for safety. We worked specifically with Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Service to increase their capacity,” says Lewis. “Over time, we’ve built up a volunteer base that’s been able to respond in many different ways to different crises for the different populations who are coming here seeking safety,” from supporting hotel sites with welcome volunteers to fundraising to support families with hygiene products and clothes.

A volunteer checks in migrant families at JFS of Metrowest (Photo: JFS of Metrowest)

Lewis emphasizes that their work goes beyond organizing volunteers, though.

“We work really closely with public policy, state legislation and budget advocacy to make sure that there’s a robust public response. On the ground, we’re ensuring that our response is very much connected to the public policy work that we do,” she says. 

The backbone of many of these efforts is JFS, one of seven crucial resettlement agencies in the commonwealth.

“In addition to resettling families from around the globe who are fleeing persecution—lately Afghan evacuees, Ukrainian war refugees and now the large number of Haitian asylum-seekers—JFS works with Metrowest’s immigrant communities to accelerate their academic success, increase their employment opportunities and facilitate their social integration, helping immigrants break the cycle of poverty and achieve financial stability. We strive to ensure that no individual or family is left behind,” says JFS CEO Lino Covarrubias.

Covarrubias emphasizes that this mission underscores the important Jewish value of helping the stranger. It’s a tradition that the organization has honored since 1979, when it worked to resettle Jewish families fleeing from persecution within former Soviet Union countries. 

Despite the strong response from these organizations, they need your help. While CJP provided an initial, crisis-responsive grant to procure critically needed resources, community assistance is welcome—and necessary, as the migrant crisis persists.

“Newly arrived families have so many critical needs not provided through government funding: safety equipment such as car seats, clothing, shoes, baby carriers and strollers and personal grocery cards. For migrants in emergency shelter, the government only pays for food and a hotel room. Everything else must be provided, currently, by private sources,” Covarrubias says.

Want to help? Donate cash or gift cards (T.J.Maxx, Walmart, Target, etc.) to JFS (Attn: Asylum Fund, 475 Franklin St., Suite 101, Framingham, MA 01702) or make an online donation.