Jesus was a refugee. So were Abraham, Joseph and Moses, who led millions of Israelites out of captivity in Egypt.
Biblical passages about immigrants harken back to this Exodus experience. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Today, “refugee” is a fighting word and red-hot political issue. The man who killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 railed about HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), which helps Jewish refugees. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” wrote the gunman in a final social media post before his deadly attack.
For the Springs-based Greenberg Center for Learning and Tolerance, there’s no better time than the present for the community to explore the issue.
The Center is partnering with the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival to host “Refugees: A Journey to Understanding” on Nov. 12. The free event includes a screening of the documentary film, “This Is Home: A Refugee Story,” followed by a discussion featuring the filmmaker, a local refugee and a representative of Lutheran Family Services, which has helped settle hundreds of refugees in the Springs area.
Founded by David and Paulette Greenberg, recipients of Temple Shalom’s 2003 Humanitarian Award, the Greenberg Center promotes “learning, understanding and acceptance that honors the cultural dignity of all mankind.”
“This Is Home,” which won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival, follows four refugee families from Syria over the course of eight months as they settle in Baltimore. The families deal with common logistical concerns (navigating language barriers, finding work, getting their kids enrolled in school, understanding public transportation) at a time when the Trump administration’s new travel ban put a stop to further immigration from Syria.
“Filmmakers are drawn to what’s happening culturally,” said Sarah Mishler, marketing director of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, which also partnered with Benet Hill Monastery to screen the film there.
Mishler said “This Is Home” rapidly rose to the top tier of the 750 films considered for this year’s 31st annual film festival.
“It has a strong story that reflects where we’re at in society by exploring different angles of this issue and how we handle them,” she said.
The world had more than 68 million refugees in 2017, an all-time high, according to UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has cut the number of refugees whom America will accept in 2019 to 30,000, a four-decade low.
Trump announced his candidacy with a 2015 speech depicting Mexicans who come to the U.S. as “rapists” and people who have “lots of problems,” including drugs and crime. Last month, Trump ordered military troops to the border to halt members of a migrant caravan traveling from Latin America toward the U.S. The president said the caravan included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” and claimed it was funded by Jewish financiers and Democratic activists.
Amid all the claims and counterclaims, organizers hope the local event generates more light than heat.
“The debate in our current political climate surrounding the topics of immigrants and refugees is deeply divisive,” said Will Stoller-Lee, who works with Fuller Seminary and serves as program chair for the Greenberg Center.
“We wanted to host an event to hopefully change the tone of this debate. Who are these refugees who are coming to our community? How are they selected? What is the resettlement and assimilation process for them? We believe this film and panel discussion will offer the attendees a chance to explore these complicated issues and view the newest arrivals to our community through the lens of empathy and understanding.”