Posted by: Jon Federman
In a bittersweet development, JF&CS New American Services has announced that we will be closing our Refugee Settlement program on September 30. Started in 1973, the Refugee Resettlement program initially offered services to Jews from the former Soviet Union. Services included assisting clients with social, educational, vocational, medical, and economic needs, as well as immigration services and facilitating family reunification in Greater Boston.
The Resettlement program was originally funded through state and federal aid, as well as by philanthropic donations. The tide of Russian Jewish refugees ebbed and flowed depending on international policy through the years, and funding would mirror any increase or decrease in the number of refugees able to leave the Soviet Union. In the late eighties and early nineties, the program peaked, with an astounding 1,414 new refugees helped in 1989 and 1,286 new refugees helped in 1992.
By 1995, the flow of refugees began to decrease substantially and continued to do so each year thereafter. As a result, funding for the program dried up. However, the Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) stepped in and expanded the program and the funding to include political asylum seekers from all over the world. Eventually, the program changed so that the ratio of non-Jews to Jews being helped was 5:1. It was ultimately decided that the program had gotten away from its original mission: to help the Jewish refugee population overcome the challenges it faced. This had been the mission of the United Hebrew Benevolent Association, the precursor to JF&CS, as far back as the 1880's when it offered assistance to Russian Jews fleeing to America to escape the pogroms.
Director of New American Services Ena Feinberg said, "It is sad to see the program end but it is heartwarming to know that approximately 25,000 refugees were helped and were given new opportunities, new lives, and the chance to become productive American citizens.
"Hopefully we've been able to create better lives for not only them but for their children and for generations to come," she added.
Rimma Zelfand, CEO of JF&CS concurred, "JF&CS New American Services has been flexible enough to help Russian Jews in the early 20th century, child Holocaust survivors in the 1940's, and then Russian Jews in the 1980's and 90's. Our mission has always been to help these refugees realize their potential and make this world a better place. I'm saddened that there is no longer a need for the program but pleased to know that we made it easier for 25,000 people to become Americans."
Jon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.