By Lee Chottiner
Rabbi Susan Silverman knows a thing or two about refugees. She’s met them.
The American–born rabbi has traveled to Holot, the Israeli detention center in the northern Negev for Eritrean and Sudanese refugees; she has sat with them and listened to their stories.
Sadly, she says there’s little the United States can learn from Israel when it comes to dealing refugees.
“I’m afraid Israel is no beacon of light when it comes to asylum seekers; we are also failing,” she told Community from her home in Israel. “Our government is far from stepping up. We’ve processed almost nobody in terms of finding out if they’re legitimate refugees, and that’s intentional [because] once we do that, we are obligated under international law” to provide asylum so that they can live and work in the country legally.
The government doesn’t want to do that, she said, even though many Israelis support it.
Silverman is coming to Louisville. She will be the guest speaker at Congregation Adath Jeshurun during a shabbaton, Friday, March 17, and Saturday, March 18. Silverman’s visit is made possible through support from the Jewish Federation of Louisville, Adath Jeshurun and the Jewish Family & Career Services.
A board member of Women at the Wall, Silverman, will speak on the struggle to bring pluralistic worship to Judaism’s holiest shrine.
The mother of two adopted boys from Ethiopia, and the author of a new memoir about her experience, Casting Lots, Silverman also will beat the drum for adoption in the Jewish world, promoting her nonprofit organization, Second Nurture, which provides guidance to prospective families.
But she also hopes to talk about Holot and the refugees she has met there. She believes Israel is missing a chance to affect positive change in the global refugee crisis.
“The thing about Israel is, we’re a start-up nation; we have such a great ability to be partners in solving the problems of the world,” Silverman said. “So why don’t we take Holot and make it a start-up university and teach the Eritreans on what it takes to create a start-up nation? Create a curriculum, then export it to expat Eritreans around the world. Then, when it’s safe to go back to Eritrea, we’ll have this army of people that can build a democracy.”
The sister of comedian Sarah Silverman and the daughter of atheists, Silverman hardly expected to become a Reform rabbi.
Yet after meeting her future husband, Yosef Abramowitz, an environmental and political activist who co-founded the Arava Power Company – a solar energy developer, she gravitated to religious study and ultimately the rabbinate.
As a Women of the Wall board member, Silverman has been in the thick of the struggle to attain social and legal recognition of women’s rights to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Kotel.
As a mother, she sees adoption, not just as a means to help childless couples, but parentless children.
“The paradigm for most people is adoption is a way for people to become parents if they have fertility issues,” she said, “but I want to flip that paradigm and say adoption is a good way for children outside of families to get parents. We also have to remember that adoption is for the sake of the child to have a family.”
She said Second Nurture (http://communityadoption.org), which will eventually assist families form all backgrounds, but for now concentrates on Jewish homes, is about helping families who have considered the route to realize how feasible it is.
“We come to a synagogue and say here is the situation; here are the needs. We are guessing there are 10 of those 81 million adults in this synagogue right now, how can we help you move forward?”