This year’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Pennsylvania Golden Door Awards celebrate themes both ordinary (better internal processes for sharing resources among programs) and extraordinary.
The theme is “Defending Freedom’s Flame,” and on April 30 at the Crystal Tea Room, six honorees will be recognized for their contributions to HIAS PA, as well for the advocacy, social services and legal services they provide to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and others looking to make their new lives in the United States.
“In the past, our celebration of this work has really been a celebration of our history as Jews, who ourselves were refugees and who made it here to the promised land,” HIAS PA Executive Director Cathryn Miller-Wilson said. Over the last few years, she added, her work has “taken on a renewed urgency.”
“Our own government is betraying the values that we embody,” she said.
The national HIAS was founded in 1881 for the express purpose of providing shelter and services to Jews fleeing persecution in Russia. Over the course of the 20th century, the need to provide safe harbor for Jewish immigrants declined (with obvious counterexamples). And by 1975, HIAS was becoming more dedicated to assisting with legal and social services for immigrants and refugees of all religions and nationalities.
That switch has, in turn, brought greater scrutiny, especially from those hostile to nonwhite immigration; after the October murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, investigators discovered that the shooter was particularly incensed by the synagogue’s work with HIAS. Though HIAS PA is a separate entity from the national organization, they do similar work in refugee resettlement.
Still, HIAS PA will “celebrate the new arrivals, and celebrate our ability to participate in our shared humanity with people who are fleeing persecution,” Miller-Wilson said. They’ll do this work as long as populations are being turned away, she said, “just as the Jews were turned away on June 6, 1939” — when the U.S. turned back the S.S. St. Louis, a ship full of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.
The honorees are grouped into three categories: social services, legal services and advocacy. In the latter category, Jewish state Rep. Jared Solomon is among the “best of public servants,” in Miller-Wilson’s words. The Castor Gardens native represents the 202nd District in Northeast Philadelphia, and has advocated on behalf of new immigrants at both the local and state level. He has, in his own words, been a “champion for welcoming immigrants.”
His early meetings with HIAS PA were a chance to relay the concerns of his older, established community members who were “a little scared of the changes” that they feared would be brought by new arrivals to their neighborhood. But HIAS PA helped him deliver a message to those constituents about the strength that would be brought to the community through their integration. “The diversity of a community uplifts an entire neighborhood,” he said.
Now, for example, Chinese immigrants to his neighborhood have created the Northeast Philadelphia Chinese Association, helping new arrivals to find jobs and access social services that might otherwise be too difficult and confusing to figure out on their own. He emphasizes both the hard work required and delivered by new immigrants, as well as the responsibility of local residents to explain the basics, such as trash day, how to get a pothole fixed and so on.
“A new immigrant comes into the community, we who have been here a while need to make sure they understand what Northeast Philadelphia is about,” he said.
Other honorees include Miriam Enriquez, executive director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs for the city, for her advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers and others; the CHOP Refugee Clinic, for its work in setting up a clinic in order to fulfill all new immigrants’ legal obligations to have timely doctor’s appointments upon arrival; Abdulhadi “Hadi” Al-Karfawi, a former military translator and beneficiary of HIAS PA who works as a docent at the Penn Museum; Duane Morris LLP, for its “extraordinary” (Miller-Wilson’s words) commitment to taking on cases referred to them by HIAS PA, as well as the bimonthly citizenship classes run in conjunction with Morgan Lewis; and Tiguida Kaba, a HIAS PA beneficiary who founded The African Family Health Organization.
“I am honored to work with strong and resilient immigrant communities every day who truly make this city great,” Enriquez said. “But none of that work would be possible without the amazing network of nonprofit organizations that serve our city’s immigrants. HIAS PA is certainly at the top of that list. We have collaborated in so many ways. HIAS PA has always been a great partner to the city.”
In addition to the honorees, Miller-Wilson said the event serves as a celebration of the ongoing “transformation” that HIAS PA has undergone to unsilo the services it provides. Some are only available to juveniles, while others require differing levels of documentation.
But “in the current environment,” she said, “where all of our clients, legal or not, are under attack… The need for those services really exists across the board.”
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