On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Liba Beyer said her committee received a call asking if they could help settle an Iraqi family of six, with four children ranging in age from six to 23. The family would arrive on Friday.
Beyer is part of a committee comprised of members from three South Orange synagogues partnering with the World Church Service to adopt refugee families and help them adjust to their new lives.
The mad rush was necessary as this was the family’s second attempt to come to the United States.
The family had already been approved by U.S. government agencies and were preparing to depart from Istanbul — where they fled when they left Iraq — when they got held up by President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees. Once a federal judge stayed the order in early February, they left before a federal court of appeals might have the opportunity to reinstate the ban.
On Feb. 10 they arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport and were met by Beyer and other members of the South Orange synagogue group.
Speaking with NJJN the day before the family arrived she said, “We’re so excited, but it’s so crazy! Everyone’s like ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this.’ I don’t know how, but we’ll do it. God willing, they will get here Friday. Everyone is holding their breath until then.”
In contrast to these frantic preparations, the three synagogues — Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation — had a few weeks’ notice to prepare for their first refugee family, originally from Syria, who arrived Jan. 17 and now live in Maplewood.
“We were all clear that when admitting refugees was once again permitted there would be a backlog of people who were fully vetted and had been waiting to come here,” Rabbi Dan Cohen of Sharey Tefilo-Israel told NJJN. “We knew that, thanks to the work of the committee, we are in a unique position that has us amazingly organized and able to help. The fact that we got a call and this request was made just a few days later was bashert [meant to be].”
Within the first 24 hours after receiving notice about the Iraqi refugees, the community had already filled requests for a long list of items, from beds, tables, and other furniture to pantry items like flour, beans, and barley to pots and pans, brooms and buckets, even toiletries. A GoFundMe site dedicated to resettling the refugees raised a total of over $63,000, with nearly $20,000 coming since notification about the second family’s arrival.
The biggest concern, Beyer said, remains housing. Airbnb helped the group find a temporary residence in West Orange, but permanent housing will be tricky. “It’s going to be really hard to work within this budget for this family, who will need a three-bedroom apartment. But we are going to try our best for Maplewood. We’ve put out as many feelers as we could,” she said.
“I’m feeling inspired by the people in our community and the work they are doing,” said Cohen. He was not surprised that the community was able to move so quickly. “That is who this community is and I am profoundly proud to be part of it.”
Meanwhile, the first family, from Syria, is settling into their new surroundings. They remain unavailable to speak with the media.
The six-year-old has started school and will be having a birthday party the first week of March, with local middle schoolers volunteering to provide cupcakes and decorations. The adults are working closely with Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest NJ to find employment opportunities, and the teenager is starting Columbia High School.
According to Beyer, the first resettled refugees are excited that a new family is joining them. She said they told her, “We want to be the first ones to welcome them.”