Syrian refugees and mass incarceration are among the topics that will be discussed at more than 150 synagogues around the country, including six in New Jersey, that are participating in the eighth annual Human Rights Shabbat.
Sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Human Rights Shabbat will take place over two weekends, Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 11-12.
“Our goal is to spread far and wide the idea that Judaism and human rights have a lot to say to each other,” said Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson, director of education at T’ruah. “The role of human rights varies from movement to movement and even congregation to congregation. It is sometimes something they do on the side, in a spare moment, or only for our own people. We think it should be broader than that. We want to make human rights part of the mainstream dialogue.”
Other participating NJ synagogues included, at press time, Temple Emanu-El in Edison, Congregation Beth El in South Orange, Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit, Temple Beth El in Jersey City, Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, and Temple Beth El in Hammonton.
The Syrian refugee crisis will be the focus at Beth Hatikvah, where Roberta Elliott will speak on Friday night, followed by a continuing discussion on Saturday morning.
Elliott, who recently retired as vice president of media and communications at HIAS (originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), traveled to Vienna earlier this fall to assist refugees arriving from several countries. She will speak about her experiences on Friday, Dec. 11, at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, at 9:45 a.m., the congregation’s Rabbi Hannah Orden will lead a discussion about whether to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, how Jewish values affect views on this topic, and what role Beth Hatikvah might take in resettlement efforts.
Orden first addressed the crisis during the High Holy Days, and she said she knew then that she would take it on again for Human Rights Shabbat in December.
“Our goal is to continue to keep an awareness of the refugee crisis in our minds,” said Orden. “In light of the recent attacks in Paris, I believe it is more important than ever to remember that refugees are fleeing terrorism in their own countries and seeking the same safety and security we want and expect for ourselves.”
At Beth El in South Orange, during Saturday morning services on Dec. 12, Rabbi Jesse Olitzky will address mass incarceration in this country. There will also be additional liturgy inserted into the service to mark Human Rights Shabbat.
“Human rights issues are also Jewish issues,” he said. “I am hoping that such a Shabbat will further our mission to not just talk about these issues, but also act on these issues as a community.
“Since this is also Shabbat of Hanukka, a time when we display our hanukkiyot in the windows, and light up the darkness,” said Olitzky, “it is our opportunity and obligation to light up the dark corners of the world and take a stand against injustice and human rights violations.” Both Beth Hatikvah and Beth El participated in the program last year.