Welcoming the Stranger

Excerpt from The Advocate, Feb. 5, 2017

16 members of the Baton Rouge Federation of Temple Youth, which includes members from Beth Shalom Synagogue and Congregation B’nai Israel, spent Sunday afternoon hanging out with five refugee teens and one child, painting nails, playing soccer, snacking, making crafts and laughing. The refugee children are originally from Syria, Iraq and Tanzania, and had moved to Baton Rouge within the last year with support from Catholic Charities.

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Asmaa Almakhzom, 12, painted her nails with some of the youth group girls, sharing with them that pizza is her favorite food, and bonding with them over their mutual love of soccer. They later played a pick-up game together outside with Almakhzom’s two brothers. Her family came to Baton Rouge this summer from Syria.

Rabbi Natan Trief of Beth Shalom Synagogue said in a statement released before the event: “Our tradition commands us to welcome the stranger. We honor each person with love and welcome each person with open arms. During this event, we strive to foster individual connections, honor stories, and and look in each other’s eyes to always see the divine image.”

Beth Shalom has worked with Catholic Charities for about a year helping resettle refugees.

“It was in the news and we felt like, as the Jewish community who have been strangers in the past, it’s part of our mission to help the stranger,” said Julie Hoffman, an adviser to the youth group. “We’re a country of immigrants and we need to all make each other feel welcome and not be afraid of each other.”

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