(New York Jewish Week) – When S., a Pakistani refugee, finally moved to a stable living situation in New York City, there was still one thing missing: furniture.
S. had left Pakistan for New York hoping to provide a better, healthier life for her younger brother R., who has Down syndrome. After a year of moving around the city, applying for asylum and trying to get on her feet, S. — who asked that her name not be used while the rest of her family waits for their asylum cases to be approved — found a room in a semi-basement apartment in Jamaica, Queens in March 2022.
But even though they had a roof over their heads, S., 44, and R. hardly had any household items to their names. Instead of beds, for example, they slept on a shared rug on the floor.
Enter Ruth’s Refuge. The Brooklyn-based Jewish non-profit aims to provide New York’s refugee community with items needed to help jumpstart their new lives and fill their homes. The organization helped S. and R. secure many household essentials both large and small, from mugs to furniture.
“It’s one thing if you’re going to drop something on a doorstep; it’s another to bring every single thing into my house and help me set it up,” S. told the New York Jewish Week about the assistance she got from Ruth’s Refuge. “We cannot do much because it’s only me and R. But they did everything — every single thing. To be very honest, I’m really blessed.”
Ruth’s Refuge emerged from a task force at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope that started in 2016 as a response to an influx of refugees fleeing Syria. Since then, they’ve expanded to a team of 120 volunteers and three full-time staff dedicated to meeting the needs of the thousands of refugees arriving in New York — first from Syria, then from Afghanistan, South and Central America and Ukraine. Last year, Ruth’s Refuge furnished over 100 households, providing more than $150,000 worth of furnishings and home goods, mostly accumulated from individual donations.
“I grew up embedded in the Jewish community and very much raised with the concept of ‘never again,’” said Leah Cover, the organization’s founder and executive director. “I always viewed that in a very universal way, that ‘never again’ meant for anybody, not just the Jewish people.”
“The idea that you would have this kind of thing repeating itself when we built the refugee system in response to the Holocaust, primarily, and then to have it just completely break down when it was most needed again was just really horrifying to watch,” she added.
Ruth’s Refuge joins a cadre of other Jewish-aligned organizations that endeavor to create softer landings for refugees in New York. Among them are Masbia, which has been meeting arriving migrants at Port Authority Bus Terminal with shoes, clothing and food, and New Neighbors Partnership, which matches incoming refugee families with small children with a New York-based family to receive clothing, toys and advice. HIAS, one of the largest refugee resettlement agencies in the country, was founded in New York City in 1902 to aid incoming Jewish refugees fleeing persecution and pogroms in Eastern Europe.
Cover said watching the worldwide response to the Syrian refugee crisis animated her to start the refugee task force at the Reform synagogue and eventually found Ruth’s Refuge — named for the biblical figure Ruth, who was welcomed as a stranger and integrated into the community. “One of the very heartening things in starting the refugee task force was just seeing how much the Jewish community wanted to be involved in a response to this and making sure that we lived our values,” she said.
At first, Cover and other volunteers fielded a lot of “ad hoc requests,” she said. Over time, resettlement agencies began to rely upon her team more and more, especially to help with apartment setups — including managing donations of homegoods, renting U-Hauls to transport them and assisting with building furniture.
Ruth’s Refuge became its own independent 501(c)(3) organization in the spring of 2019. These days, they work with a number of resettlement agencies, primarily HIAS, Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee and Queer Detainee Empowerment Project.
Once asylum seekers have secured permanent housing, Ruth’s Refuge will assign each family a volunteer who acts as a personal shopper. Generally there is no limit to the amount of furniture a family can pick out — as long as it fits in their home, although for certain items like dish sets and TVs, Ruth’s Refuge can usually only provide one per family, Cover said.
The items, housed in storage units in Gowanus, are then packed up and delivered all over the city by teams of volunteers.
Kathy Fenelly, a retired professor of public policy and immigration policy, is one such volunteer. “I’ve worked on advising immigrants on immigration policy for a number of years,” she said. “But this is the first [organization] I’ve ever seen that has such a focused and specific mission to work with immigrants and refugees in order to be sure that they have the basics that they need in their apartments.”
Fenelly has been a part of the organization since it was founded at CBE, and said its mission strongly reflects the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger. “Everyday, I get to say, ‘Welcome to New York. I’m really happy that you’re here,’” she said.
As for S., Ruth’s Refuge helped her and R. secure a hair dryer, soap, towels and a table. Their modest room wasn’t big enough for two beds, so a bunk bed was ordered on Amazon and volunteers helped build the furniture when it arrived.
S. had left Pakistan in February 2021 with R. with the intent to visit Chicago, where her father had relatives, and then New York, which she had visited before. She had planned to stay a few weeks; traveling with her brother, she assumed it would be a harrowing journey — in Pakistan, she said, her brother’s Down syndrome was often met with contempt, anger and confusion.
Here in the United States, however, S. was surprised by the degree of acceptance, warmth and respect shown to her brother. That’s why she came to believe immigration was necessary: As S. told the New York Jewish Week, she felt her and her brother’s lives were at stake, so she applied for asylum in April 2021.
S. learned their asylum applications were approved at the end of October 2022. Catholic Charities then helped S. and R. get IDs, Social Security numbers and health care, and also provided a few hundred dollars a month to help them get on her feet.
These days, S. works as a home health aide. “It’s becoming home,” she said. “It’s surprising because I was raised in Pakistan, but I never felt like this in my country.”
Left behind in Pakistan are her husband, two other brothers and her 21-year-old son. But her son’s asylum application was approved last month, she said, and she thinks her husband’s will be soon as well, so she’s optimistic they’ll be able to join her in New York later this year.
“I buy things [now] because I can save the money for it,” S. said. “But the first step was Catholic Charities and the second step was Ruth’s Refuge.”
“I’m very, very satisfied in the United States,” she added. “I’m very blessed.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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