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Because Passover is a refugee story, one synagogue invited refugees to Seder.

Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia, is marveling at the length of his to-do list for Tuesday's Passover Seder.

Photo via iStock.

The food still has to be cooked, the Haggadahs proofread, and volunteers wrangled.


"[It's] a little bit crazy, but in a good way," Knopf says.

His stress is understandable. This year, Beth-El is preparing to host over 100 congregants and some special first-time guests: about 50 refugees, most from Afghanistan.

The Seder, first reported by WWBT-12 Richmond, is the congregation's attempt to connect the plight of the millions of refugees fleeing violence and chaos around the world with the central themes of the Passover story, which commemorates the biblical account of the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt.

"Our foundational story, which is the one we celebrate on Passover, is a refugee story," Knopf explains.

Knopf is one of a growing number of American Jewish leaders who are putting refugee stories front and center at their Seders this year.

Photo by Temple Beth-El.

The Passover narrative, which tells the story of a people fleeing slavery under an oppressive regime, strikes a particularly timely chord with Jews who see themes of perseverance in the face of persecution — and an obligation to help those suffering under it in the present — as central not just to their history, but their religious narrative as well.

In 2016, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) began issuing a Haggadah supplement that draws an explicit parallel between the biblical exodus and the global refugee crisis. The addition includes new prayers and readings, as well as four personal stories of individuals who fled persecution in their home countries. Knopf plans to incorporate the supplement into Beth-El's Seder.

“[This is] a really critical moment for the Jewish community to really step up and say with a loud voice that we support welcoming refugees, that we know the dire consequences of shutting the doors of our country to refugees, and we won’t stand for that happening again," says Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, HIAS education director and author of the supplement.

Over 300 congregations have signed up for HIAS' Welcome Campaign, joining a statement of support for admitting more refugees into the United States.  

Temple Beth-El is going one step further by inviting refugees to the Seder table.

"This is the first time that we’ve had a faith community say, ‘We are going to raise money to pay for a sit-down dinner for refugees and really welcome them in a very hospitable and really special way," says Kate Ayers, executive director of ReEstablish Richmond, a local refugee aid organization that is co-sponsoring the event with the synagogue.

ReEstablish Richmond's "Taste of Afghanistan" dinner in 2016, where Afghan immigrants shared their cooking with locals and volunteers. Photo by ReEstablish Richmond/Facebook.

About 400 refugees were resettled in Richmond in 2016. Most worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, while others hail from Iraq, Sudan, Bhutan, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A few of the guests have volunteered to share their personal stories at the dinner.  

One of the scheduled speakers — Abdul Jalal Hashimi, an Afghan translator whose family was repeatedly threatened for his decision to assist American soldiers — told the synagogue's newsletter that he hopes the event will "help people understand each other."

Abdul Jalal Hashimi. Photo by ReEstablish Richmond/Facebook.

The organizers hope to arrange the seating to help the newcomers — many who were doctors and engineers back home — get to know local professionals in their field, as most are still working survival jobs in Richmond.

Since many of the refugees have never met a Jewish person or attended a Passover celebration before, Ayers went family-to-family to explain the significance.

"The way that I was able to connect it the most was just to explain that this is a dinner that is a holiday for the Jewish community, and it’s a holiday where they remember when they as a people had to escape for their life because of persecution, and they want to welcome you as someone who’s experienced that same thing," she says.

Knopf hopes the meal will also be a "holy"  experience for his congregants, many of whom may have never met a Muslim person or a refugee.

ReEstablish Richmond volunteers help recently arrived refugees navigate the Richmond bus system. Photo by ReEstablish Richmond/Facebook.

"Just to see the world expand for people is really powerful," Knopf says.

While he braced for a potential backlash, he says he's received virtually no pushback from his politically diverse congregation. That, he hopes, is a sign that the message of the holiday — and the moment — is resonating.

"There’s a saying in Judaism that a little light dispels a lot of darkness," Knopf says. "So even though we’re just one little community in one little city, I think we’re doing a lot of illuminating for at least this group of people."

Planet

Easy (and free!) ways to save the ocean

The ocean is the heart of our planet. It needs our help to be healthy.

Ocean Wise

Volunteers at a local shoreline cleanup

True

The ocean covers over 71% of the Earth’s surface and serves as our planet’s heart. Ocean currents circulate vital heat, moisture, and nutrients around the globe to influence and regulate our climate, similar to the human circulatory system. Cool, right?

Our ocean systems provide us with everything from fresh oxygen to fresh food. We need it to survive and thrive—and when the ocean struggles to function healthfully, the whole world is affected.

Pollution, overfishing, and climate change are the three biggest challenges preventing the ocean from doing its job, and it needs our help now more than ever. Humans created the problem; now humans are responsible for solving it.

#BeOceanWise is a global rallying cry to do what you can for the ocean, because we need the ocean and the ocean needs us. If you’re wondering how—or if—you can make a difference, the answer is a resounding YES. There are a myriad of ways you can help, even if you don’t live near a body of water. For example, you can focus on reducing the amount of plastic you purchase for yourself or your family.

Another easy way to help clean up our oceans is to be aware of what’s known as the “dirty dozen.” Every year, scientists release an updated list of the most-found litter scattered along shorelines. The biggest culprit? Single-use beverage and food items such as foam cups, straws, bottle caps, and cigarette butts. If you can’t cut single-use plastic out of your life completely, we understand. Just make sure to correctly recycle plastic when you are finished using it. A staggering 3 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans annually. Imagine the difference we could make if everyone recycled!

The 2022 "Dirty Dozen" ListOcean Wise

If you live near a shoreline, help clean it up! Organize or join an effort to take action and make a positive impact in your community alongside your friends, family, or colleagues. You can also tag @oceanwise on social if you spot a beach that needs some love. The location will be added to Ocean Wise’s system so you can submit data on the litter found during future Shoreline Cleanups. This data helps Ocean Wise work with businesses and governments to stop plastic pollution at its source. In Canada, Ocean Wise data helped inform a federal ban on unnecessary single-use plastics. Small but important actions like these greatly help reduce the litter that ends up in our ocean.

Ocean Wise, a conservation organization on a mission to restore and protect our oceans, is focused on empowering and educating everyone from individuals to governments on how to protect our waters. They are making conservation happen through five big initiatives: monitoring and protecting whales, fighting climate change and restoring biodiversity, innovating for a plastic-free ocean, protecting and restoring fish stocks, and finally, educating and empowering youth. The non-profit believes that in order to rebuild a resilient and vibrant ocean within the next ten years, everyone needs to take action.

Become an Ocean Wise ally and share your knowledge with others. The more people who know how badly the ocean needs our help, the better! Now is a great time to commit to being a part of something bigger and get our oceans healthy again.

Science

Researchers dumped tons of coffee waste into a forest. This is what it looks like now.

30 dump truck loads and two years later, the forest looks totally different.

One of the biggest problems with coffee production is that it generates an incredible amount of waste. Once coffee beans are separated from cherries, about 45% of the entire biomass is discarded.

So for every pound of roasted coffee we enjoy, an equivalent amount of coffee pulp is discarded into massive landfills across the globe. That means that approximately 10 million tons of coffee pulp is discarded into the environment every year.

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All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

True

A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.
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