Sanctuary: Supporting Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers

Why sanctuary? Why now? What does it mean?

One of the direct and hateful outcomes of the 2016 presidential election is a dramatic surge in anti-immigrant and anti-refugee actions, policy and rhetoric in our country. The current administration has constricted the United States’ asylum program, made deporting undocumented immigrants a top priority and has wrongfully portrayed them as the cause of societal ills. At CBST, we are a community of immigrants and refugees and descendants of immigrants and refugees. We see those being targeted as part of our community and our neighbors, not our enemies. We are reminded of the words from the book of Leviticus that command us to welcome the stranger because we, too, were once strangers in a strange land. As LGBTQ people and Jews, we know the dangers of demonization, and we embrace resistance and love as our response. We cannot be silent.

Click here for opportunities to take action with CBST! 

After months of study, exploration, trainings, meetings and deep conversations, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, CRRI Rabbi Ayalon Eliach, Sabrina Farber, Marsha Melnick, Rabbi Marisa James and Sherry Fyman, have distilled several tangible and meaningful ways that we can respond as a congregation. We have identified organizations at the forefront of protecting and defending immigrants, already engaged in sanctuary* work, with whom we plan to partner for direct action and education while fostering an environment of collaboration and understanding in a pluralistic Jewish context and an interfaith one as well. The Sanctuary team is led by Sabrina Farber and Sherry Fyman, with CBST members Noemi Masliah, Lyosha Gorshkov, Harold Levine, Marsha Melnick, Rick Landman, Lee Jason Goldberg, CBST Director of Social Justice Programming, Rabbi Marisa James and CRRI Rabbi Ayalon Eliach. 

Building on what we are already supporting, we are exploring ways to deepen our existing relationship with RUSA LGBT, a network of LGBT Russian asylum seekers and immigrants, by amplifying and integrating their work with this broader initiative. We have also identified other  organizations doing important work on issues of immigrant rights, refugee resettlement, and advocacy with whom we can also partner and learn.

Take Action!

Get to know the organizations at the front lines of this work. Follow the New Sanctuary Coalition on Facebook, and follow United We Dream, an organization of immigrant youth leading the fight to protect DACA and push for a Dream Act. (click here to learn more about what these are) 

Accompany our immigrant friends. We will be announcing our next Accompaniment training at CBST soon; watch our newsletter or check back here to find out when it will be! If you have attended any New Sanctuary Accompaniment training but haven't received an invitation to the scheduling system, or if you have any issues creating an account, please email newsanctuary.tech@gmail.com, or write to Rabbi James (rabbijames@cbst.org) or Sara (sara@newsanctuarynyc.org), and sign up to join an accompaniment with Rabbi James and Sherry Fyman.

Pro Se Legal Clinic at NYU, every Tuesday at 6:00pm at the Vanderbilt Building, 40 Washington Square South: volunteers welcome, no training necessary. The weekly asylum clinic trains volunteers to help people who are representing themselves (pro se representation) and find out what legal services are available to them. This can include helping them fill out and file asylum applications before the government-mandated one-year in the country deadline. No need to register, just show up when you can. 

Jericho Walk, every Thursday at 11:00am at 26 Federal Plaza (Lafayette side): this powerful demonstration of protest is followed later in the day by a 5:00 pm Vigil at 201 Varick Street which leads to the 6:00 pm Community Meeting at St. Francis Xavier Mission at 55 West 15th Street. 

Click here to let us know who you are and how you'd like to get involved! 

What has the Sanctuary Team been doing so far? 

  • On Friday, October 6th, Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, one of the founders of the New Sanctuary Movement, was our guest speaker for Shabbat services. (click to watch here, starting just after the 1 hour mark)
  • On Saturday, October 14th, we joined RUSA for Voices4Chechnya, a rally at Stonewall followed by a march to Trump Tower. Listen to Rabbi Kleinbaum speaking at the rally by clicking here.  
  • On Wednesday, October 18th, CBST joined HIAS, Bend the Arc, the Muslim Community Network, and other partners in Washington, D.C. for the #NoMuslimBanEver March. 
  • On Thursday, October 19th, more than 80 people attended an accompaniment training by the New Sanctuary Movement at CBST.  
  • In November, we threw a virtual baby shower for Jeimy, an asylum seeker who New Sanctuary has been supporting.
  • On Monday, December 11th, more than 30 people attended our second accompaniment training by the New Sanctuary Movement at CBST. 
  • On Wednesday, December 13th, CBST hosted the New Sanctuary Coalition's Gala. Click here to see photos!
  • In December, we collected food for an asylum seeker who is dependent on food pantries and has limited mobility, so that he and his family could eat. 
  • On January 5th, we joined a vigil to support a Haitian immigrant in detention and at risk of deportation. 
  • On Monday January 8th, CBST hosted an immigration law training with the Sanctuary team for lawyers and non-lawyers.
  • On Thursday January 11th, a CBST group joined a vigil to accompany Ravi Ragbir, Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, to his ICE check-in. 
  • On Wednesday January 17th, Rabbi Kleinbaum, Sabrina Farber, Harold Levine, Allison Drew Klein, and Tyler Watkins participated in an historic act of non-violent civil disobedience led by Bend the Arc and United We Dream to show our support for young immigrants who will be at risk of deportation if their status is revoked. Read more by clicking here
  • Between January 11th - 29th, the CBST community made phone calls and wrote postcards to help bring our friend and colleague Ravi Ragbir home from detention. Read the judge's ruling by clicking here. Ravi, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, is still at risk of deportation, but he is home with his family for now. 
  • On Sunday February 11th, 40 CBST members learned about the history and theory of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience with Rabbi Kleinbaum and trainers Jamie Bauer and Alexis Danzig. If you missed the training, you can still get a taste of the learning by reading the training packet here, and you can see photos from the day here.

Our Partners

RUSA LGBT provides support and a network for Russian speaking LGBT asylum seekers. CBST already hosts their meetings and collaborates with them on a number of programs. We are poised to build on their strength and expertise by working even more closely with them and integrating their efforts with these new ones. 

The New Sanctuary Movement, which is housed at Judson Memorial Church, leads the sanctuary movement in New York. In a show of solidarity, we have joined their board of directors, which gives us  a seat on the front lines of this work. Judson Memorial Church is a tier one sanctuary, and doing this work has been the core mission of their church for quite some time. We are supporting their efforts by offering our space, raising money and collecting needed supplies for families in sanctuary through Judson and the broad networks it has established via the New Sanctuary Coalition. New Sanctuary will partner with CBST to offer their expertise in training CBST members and others who want to get involved in accompaniment and other ways of assisting the immigrant population in New York.

The Synagogue Coalition and Downtown Jewish Life is a group of synagogues and Jewish non-profits coordinating and amplifying efforts to engage more deeply in this work. The group collaborates with organizations like HIAS and T’ruah to advocate for and assist refugee and immigrant families. By partnering with them we are creating a louder voice for justice and equality on these crucial issues. 

Faith in New York is a significant multi faith organization that advocates for a number of different issues, including supporting immigrants. We are also partnering with them to further our sanctuary work and deepen our interfaith relationships.

What are we doing?

CBST's initiative provides several opportunities to take action to support immigrants and refugees. Please click here and sign up to get involved and join us in this important work.

  1. By signing up for a training session, you will be able to accompany immigrants on check-ins with immigration authorities and other court dates. Facing the full weight of an inhumane immigration system alone can be overwhelming, isolating, and scary. Since their closest friends and relatives may be similarly vulnerable and therefore afraid to enter federal facilities, immigrants turn to New Sanctuary to provide this critical support.  
  2. In conjunction with the New Sanctuary Movement, we plan to host outreach events and training programs at CBST that provide services to immigrants and refugees and education for all. 
  3. Congregants can provide vital support in New Sanctuary’s weekly pro se asylum clinic. Sitting together with two or three volunteers, the immigrant can begin preparing an application for asylum. Experienced immigration lawyers oversee this process but volunteers are crucial in helping the asylum seeker begin to put his/her experiences on paper. Volunteers with relevant language skills (most notably Spanish, Russian, and Creole) are always needed to act as interpreters.
  4. Raising money and providing support both tangible and emotional, for immigrants and refugees. This will happen on an ad hoc basis as the need arises. 
  5. CBST will continue to co-sponsor rallies, marches and other gatherings that highlight the plight of these individuals and call on our elected officials to protect them.

What is Sanctuary?

Broadly defined, the sanctuary movement aims to support immigrants without legal documentation. Anyone can do this work, but faith communities are uniquely situated to get involved for two primary reasons: (a) their missions tend to include providing support for all people, regardless of immigration status; and (b) immigration authorities have had a non-binding policy of not raiding houses of worship (it is yet to be seen if the current administration will continue to follow this policy). The most publicized form of sanctuary is housing an undocumented immigrant. Houses of worship that engage in this type of work are known as “tier one” sanctuaries. They compose a very small percentage of the sanctuary movement. Most sanctuary work involves supporting undocumented immigrants in ways other than housing. Houses of worship that engage in this type of work are known as “tier two” sanctuaries. They compose the overwhelming majority of congregations in the sanctuary movement. CBST is a tier two sanctuary.


To learn more about the Jewish response to sanctuary, click here to read the T’ruah guide for synagogues interested in doing this important work.

To learn more about the New Sanctuary Coalition and their Pro Se clinic work, click here