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Synagogue, church and mosque team up to sponsor an Afghan refugee family: 'We are all one'

'I think the fact that we're doing this together is a beautiful example of what the best of this country can be.'

Synagogue, church and mosque team up to sponsor an Afghan refugee family: 'We are all one'
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Sébastien Désarmaux

Nearly six months since their arrival in the United States in one of the biggest airlifts in history, many Afghan refugees are yet to begin the new lives they envisioned. Overwhelmed resettlement groups have been unable to find affordable permanent homes for all of them and without Social Security numbers or federal work authorization documents, these evacuees have more or less been stuck in limbo. Recognizing the predicament of these displaced families, Adam Raskin—a rabbi at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Maryland—and his congregants decided to do their part by sponsoring a refugee family.


"We thought it was very much in line with our values," Raskin told The Washington Post. "For Jews, many of whom were refugees from places of persecution, there is a special sensitivity for this issue." However, once they began looking into the resettlement process, the congregation learned how complicated it can be, and how many resources are required. Rather than be intimidated by the complexity of the process, Raskin saw it as an opportunity for something bigger. "We could do this on our own," he recalled thinking to himself, "but wouldn’t it be amazing to collaborate with a Christian and Muslim congregation?”


Raskin explained that his aim for the interfaith initiative was to "demonstrate to the family what kind of country they've relocated to. This is a country where religions don't have to be at odds with each other, but actually where religious communities collaborate and find common ground." He pitched his idea to St. Francis Episcopal Church and the Islamic Community Center of Potomac and both congregations were more than happy to get on board. "We definitely wanted to get involved," said Sultan Chowdhury, one of the founding members of the Islamic center who currently serves as its trustee. "God gave us an opportunity to truly learn about each other. It is wonderful to see how close we are."


Kathy Herrmann, the parish life coordinator at St. Francis, shared similar sentiments. "I have felt such a kinship with them and such a warmth and love emanating from the other two," she said. "We all have the same goal to help this family become acclimated and feel the love that we have for them." The Wahdats—the Afghan refugee family being collectively sponsored by the three houses of worship—includes a 36-year-old father, a 30-year-old mother and their 19-month-old daughter who resettled in College Park at the beginning of the year.


Upon joining forces to help the family get back on their feet, the congregations recruited volunteers to collaborate with. This includes Stew Remer, a member of Congregation Har Shalom since 1982 who spearheaded the effort. "We created an informal partnership where we are working together to provide support for the family," Remer said. "It's amazing that we're doing this with other organizations." Divvying up responsibilities to support the Wahdats, the church has taken on a healthcare advocacy role while the mosque has been helping the family with translation services and cultural needs. Doing its part, the synagogue has been organizing transportation, legal and financial support and helping the family apply for food stamps and Medicaid.


"Everybody is putting their heads together and strategizing and discussing what contacts and leads they have," Raskin said. "It has been an outpouring of effort and generosity from all three congregations." Remer revealed that the Wahdats are currently awaiting work authorization and Social Security cards and will soon be enrolled in English classes. The congregations will also help them find job opportunities and eventually register their daughter for school. In addition to all this, each house of worship has fundraised within their respective communities, collecting hundreds of dollars' worth of gift cards for the family.


Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all considered Abrahamic religions that view the prophet Abraham—whose hospitality and his willingness to welcome strangers is highlighted in the Bible—as the patriarch of their faith. "That is perhaps the original bond between Judaism, Christianity and Islam," Raskin said. "We are kind of living out that legacy by collaborating in this way. I think the fact that we're doing this together is a beautiful example of what the best of this country can be." Chowdhury agreed, adding: "We have enjoyed the privilege of being together, trying to understand each other better and propagate peace. It's eye opening for all of us, and it's a blessing." According to Herrmann, this will not be the last time the congregations join forces. "This isn't a short-term project. We are in it for the long haul," she said. "I have felt that we are not even different communities. We are all one."

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