HIAServe Blog -- Nathaniel in Europe/Israel
This is part of a series of blogs by Nathaniel Berman, as he reports on his travels to HIAS' operations in Austria, Ukraine, and Israel with HIAS' Board of Directors on the 2010 Europe/Israel Mission. Upon his return to the U.S., Nathaniel (who also serves as the HIAS Young Leaders DC Service Chair) will share his experience with Young Leaders in his community, using this knowledge to provide greater opportunities to service DC-area immigrants.
Greetings from Washington, DC! The last day of the Mission was another action-packed day full of valuable meetings and experiences. After a quick breakfast, we met with HIAS' UNHCR contact in Israel, then to the Ministry of Interior’s office in Lod, where asylum seekers register claims for Israeli asylum. Next, we had the chance to join HIAS staff in helping to train Ministry of Interior employees, and met with the Ministry of Interior’s Director of International Organizations and Human Rights. We then traveled to Jerusalem during sunset for our very last meeting of the mission, with Amnon Ben-Ami, the head of Israel's Population, Immigration and Border Authority. We then enjoyed some free time to stroll through Ben Yehudah Street in Jerusalem before our closing dinner at Ima’s.
To conclude my blog now, I was left with so many thoughts to process, and I hope to be able to connect Young Leaders to much of what I've experienced and try to continue the work that I've seen HIAS do the best I can! Thanks, HIAS (and, in particular, Sandy Spinner, Chair of the International Operations Committee of the HIAS Board of Directors), for this opportunity and I look forward to continuing these connections!
Greetings from Tel Aviv! We spent an incredible Shabbat in Kiev, and had the chance to meet up with my fellow Young Leader and HIAS Board Member Valentin Povarchuk, who was coincidentally in Kiev for business. We had the chance to make home visits to refugees that HIAS assists in Kiev, then we visited a facility run by Integration Centre at ROKADA Charitable Fund (a human rights agency supported by UNHCR, which provides services for Afghan refugees). We then took a tour of historic and Jewish Kiev, including one of the old synagogues in the neighborhood and the childhood home of Golda Meir. Finally, we had a very nice closing dinner at a Georgian restaurant before departing for the airport and our flight to Tel Aviv.
When we arrived in Tel Aviv, we were immediately met by Joel Moss, the director of HIAS Israel. We met with the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Unit, then took a walking tour of South Tel Aviv, where many asylum seekers and foreign workers live. Some of the tour highlights included the computer store of one Sudanese refugee, the Bialik Rygozin School (which has a large “foreign” student population), and a formerly Persian neighborhood that now houses many African and Asian communities including people from the Phillipines, Nepal, and Thailand.
After a quick falafel lunch in a store that had been bombed two years ago, we met with some of HIAS’ non-profit partners in Tel Aviv such as ASSAF (an aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers which was founded in early 2007) and the African Refugee Development Center. We then visited HIAS’ Israel offices and had the chance to meet with various African clients who shared their heart-wrenching stories. After a couple of hours of much-needed down time, we had a dinner with HIAS staff, legal colleagues, and interviewers for the Assisted Voluntary Return Program.
Greetings from Kiev! Today began with a presentation on HIAS activities in the former Soviet Union, and then a meeting with the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions (SCNR). We then went on a guided tour of Babi Yar, the site of several massacres of Jewish people in Ukraine. We saw several memorials dedicated to various groups of victims, including one to the many children killed by the Nazis in the area. Our guide mentioned that, despite many people desiring to have picnics and such on the grounds, there has been a strong pushback to keep the area sacred and free of distractions from the monuments.
Finally, we attended both an Orthodox and a Reform synagogue's services before attending dinner with Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, one of the chief rabbis of Ukraine. The group then returned to the hotel, but some of us managed to find a little more energy to go out on the town to hear some music at a club (the band played Michael Jackson!) before returning to rest up for our last day in Ukraine.
Greetings from Odessa! On Wednesday, we had the chance to meet Chaim Chesler, the founder and co-chair of the Limmud conferences, who spoke to us about the work Limmud has been doing to reach out to Jewish individuals from the Former Soviet Union. We then headed over to the Beit Grand Community Center for Limmud's closing ceremony which included a reflection on the achievements of Ukrainian Jewry.
We then visited a temporary accommodation center for refugees outside of Odessa. There, we saw a facility which houses over 150 individuals from Kyrgystan, Georgia, Tunis, Guinea, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Congo, Turkey, Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Jordan. The facility strives to provide basic services for people who are at various points in the resettlement process such as access to social workers and language tutoring.
We also took a tour of historic and Jewish Odessa, which involved stops at the childhood homes of Shalom Aleichem, Dizengoff, and Pushkin, as well as sights where the Zionist movement first began in Odessa, the remaining synagogues, and a Holocaust memorial.
Today, we arrived in Kiev. We met with the UNHCR regional office, the Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and ended our day at a reception with HIAS Kiev staff, UNHCR representatives, and other HIAS colleagues working on refugee issues in Ukraine.
Before leaving Vienna, we met with UNHCR officers for a discussion of asylum issues in Austria. This was particularly interesting to our group so that we understand what happens to HIAS clients who choose to ultimately seek asylum in Austria. After that meeting, we said goodbye to our wonderful Vienna hosts and headed to the airport for our flight to Odessa.
After the flight to Odessa (which included some very curious meals), we were met at the airport by Leonard Terlitsky, HIAS' Regional Director for the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and Sasha Galkin, the Ukraine County Manager. We attended the Limmud Conference (which is a Jewish conference that takes place around the world to provide educational, cultural, and networking tools on a variety of issues). We attended an interesting session where Leonard and Sasha presented on "Jews helping non-Jews," where they spoke about HIAS' work in the region.
We then attended dinner with the conference participants and had a chance to return to the hotel to rest before another action-packed day. Tomorrow we will be returning to the conference for the closing event and will be taking a sight-seeing tour of historic and Jewish Odessa before moving on to Kiev. Stay tuned for more updates!
Greetings again from Vienna! Yesterday we visited the HIAS OPE, which provides services such as a cultural exchange program to prepare refugees for life in the U.S. For instance, one of their programs teaches refugees how to open a bank account in the U.S..
We then visited the U.S. Consulate, the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the local offices of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which provides services to the Jewish Iranian refugees processed at the HIAS OPE. At JDC, we met with local applicants at various stages of the resettlement process. Each applicant explained the religious discrimination that they faced in Iran and their appreciation for HIAS’ efforts to help them build better lives for themselves in the U.S. While the average processing time is down to 4 to 5 months from 4 to 5 years, several refugees still expressed frustration with the waiting time and that they were anxious to reach the U.S.
Finally, we met up with a local rabbi who gave us a tour of the Jewish applicant housing in Vienna. Since all applicants to the U.S. Resettlement Program are responsible for securing their own housing during their stay in Vienna, this rabbi connects Jewish applicants to housing while they are awaiting resettlement in the U.S.
After an incredible dinner at the Palmenhaus restaurant (previously the greenhouse of the imperial palace!), we took a stroll through town to see the gorgeous baroque architecture in the city center one last time before trying to catch some sleep before our next day´s events.
Greetings from Vienna! As I write this, the group has been here for about 24 hours. We all met at the Vienna International Airport baggage claim and headed straight to our Hotel. While others showered and rested, Kelsey (HIAS’ Program Manager for International Operations) and I ventured into the city center to see the sights including the main opera house, the house where Mozart grew up, and the famous St. Stephen's Cathedral. We ended our excursion with a stop at the delicious Cafe Prückel and then returned to the hotel for a little rest before our official program began.
We took a tour of several highlights of Vienna including the Albertina Museum, the Imperial Palace, a sculpture garden dedicated to fighting fascism, the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, the Jewish Museum, and a Jewish synagogue that was spared from destruction during World War II. We also spent some time at Adolf Frankl’s gallery, where we saw several pieces he painted from memory after his release from a concentration camp. The artist's son, Thomas Frankl, was there to give a personal account, and we discovered that his family was resettled back to Austria after the war, through the help of HIAS and JDC.
After our tour, we met up with managers of HIAS’ office in Vienna, which serves as an Overseas Processing Entity (OPE). We learned that the OPE operates a processing center for Iranian refugees as the result of a contract with the U.S. State Department. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and heard personal stories from staff such as several clients who were persecuted and/or detained in their home countries with dreams of being resettled to the U.S.
I look forward to learning much more from the HIAS-Vienna OPE staff, so stay tuned for the next blog post for more updates!