WASHINGTON – One year ago, the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Biden administration faced criticism for the chaotic departure of the US forces, and for the humanitarian crisis that followed.
According to the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), some 80,000 Afghans were admitted to the United States as “humanitarian parolees” following the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan – a temporary status that does not confer lasting protection or a pathway to permanent residence.
The JFNA together with the Shapiro Foundation announced a $1 million initiative to support Jewish community organizations in resettlement efforts. So far, the organization says, they have supported more than 1,900 displaced Afghans across 15 communities and 12 states.
One of the grantees of this initiative is Jewish Community Services of South Florida, which engaged more than 120 volunteers from the Jewish community in these efforts.
One year later, Ilene Kossman – who serves on the Board of Jewish Federations of North America’s National Women’s Philanthropy and on the Board of Trustees of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation – says the lessons learned in the resettlement of Afghan refugees could help the Federation to better help refugees from Ukraine.
The Miami Jewish community helped resettle 52 refugees from Afghanistan.
“All the volunteers have very big hearts. And I think that they were very supportive of the Afghan community,” Kossman said.
“I took them to the dentist, I took them to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the books, to study for the driving test. And when I realized in Miami they don’t offer any kind of translation into Dari, so we got them books from California in Farsi, which is similar to Dari.”
Kossman continued, “We made sure that they had diapers, that their prescriptions were filled and picked up, that they understood what they were signing when they got medical procedures or signs for their kids for school.”
One aspect of welcoming the refugees, she said, was through cultural exchange.
“We did a lot of different types of cultural exchanges. It benefited us to learn about their culture, and [vice versa].”
For example, she said, her synagogue hosted the refugees for a Purim party, and she celebrated Muslim holidays with the Afghan families.
Darcy Hirsh, managing director of public affairs at JFNA, said, “Almost overnight, we had tens of thousands of displaced Afghans on US soil. Since they were evacuated due to humanitarian reasons, they arrived as humanitarian parolees and could not access the same government benefits as refugees.
“So the model we established in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation was critical because we worked with Jewish service agencies to engage over 1,800 volunteers in order to help resettle these evacuees and provide them with the necessary support in order to rebuild their lives in the US,” she said.
“I am proud of how the Jewish community embraced these men, women and children,” Hirsh added. “They are entitled to protection in the US for up to two years, so Jewish Federations will continue to advocate for policies such as the Afghan Adjustment Act, to ensure that these individuals and families can have a pathway to permanent residence and live in safety.”
Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of JFNA, said Jewish Federations have coordinated resettlement efforts for refugees fleeing from conflict and seeking safety for decades.
“The tremendous response of so many of our partner agencies to our call to action to help displaced Afghans is a demonstration of our Jewish values to welcome the stranger and outstretch our arm to those in need of support, regardless of their faith or background,” he said.
“Currently, displaced Afghans resettled in the United States must apply for asylum or risk potentially facing deportation,” JFNA said in a statement. “Jewish Federations have advocated for a pathway for permanent residence for Afghan refugees in the United States, and have urged Congress to expedite the passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act that would allow eligible Afghans to apply for permanent status after one or two years of residence in the United States, and after clearing additional background checks.”