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ReSET Westchester

10/05/2022 10:29:11 AM


by Elaine Merker and Linda Dishner

Elaine Merker: ReSET - this seems an exceptionally appropriate topic to talk about on YK as we as individuals gather to reset our own barometers for the New Year. ReSET, our group in addition to our Bet Torah participants, is made of community members from area synagogues, churches, mosques and individuals working together to make the abrupt transition of our families, from inhospitable home countries to America as smooth, efficient and welcoming as possible – securing benefits, finding them jobs, education and places to live.

For the first of our newcomers, things seemed simple and straightforward. This well educated, respectful English speaking young Afghan native arrived in November 2021. Just last week, after less than a year in this country he was granted asylum. SUCCESS!! In February, ReSET welcomed two new families, almost simultaneously. The first was a well-heeled and well-educated English-speaking family of three, two parents and a very bright thirteen-year-old girl.

The second family, was a Pashto speaking family with two young parents, three children under the age of five, with a fourth on the way. The father had completed the equivalent of 7th grade.

Finally, our fourth newly arrived family is from Ukraine, two parents, three young children with the wife pregnant.

These are the basic facts, but they offer little insight into the complexities of what it means to work with individuals, traumatized by their abrupt needs to exit their native countries, yet expected to settle into a new land, with the help of well-meaning strangers like ourselves, who have the hearts and desire to help, but yet struggle to anticipate, understand and meet their needs, all while being culturally sensitive to cultures we are just learning about on the way.

In the spirit of YK we have learned about Teshuvah from a new prospective, the need to forgive our newcomers their trespasses, realizing they don’t always understand cultural differences, as well as forgiving our own, when we simply don’t know. When I first became involved in this project, I took more casually than I do now, what it means to understand and respect another’s culture while at the same time trying to teach the mores of this country. Reflecting on this journey, I am reminded of the book Road Map to Holland.

When one of the family’s newborn twins was born with special needs for which they had no experience, they paraphrased Emily Perl Kingsley’s essay; It's like planning a trip to Italy, only to get off the plane and discover you're actually in Holland. You need a new road map...

And so it is with ReSET, we started off expecting to be able to welcome refugees/immigrants, in the ways we as Americans know how to welcome people. It has not been that simple.

Shortly after one of the families arrived, I texted the family, in Pashto, that I left them a huge bag of rice in their hotel lobby. All was well until I got a panicked text from my ReSET partner telling me that her translating app told her that what I had really said was that there was a missile waiting for them on the table in the lobby. So much for simple. Finally, on my most recent visit to this family’s apartment, I knew both that we had made progress and that we had a more to learn. My ReSET partner and I worked hard to remember to take our shoes off when entering their apartment, sit on the floor to talk, eat, play, and that the family did not use utensils to eat. As we sat there on this this recent visit, I had to smile .I suddenly realized that my partner and I were sitting on the floor shoeless, while the husband and wife were sitting comfortably on chairs as he happily ate his rice with a spoon! Shanah Tovah!


Linda Dishner: Now that Elaine has so eloquently explained what ReSET is about, I thought I would add a few thoughts on what resettlement work has been like for me. As card-carrying member of the Long Island conservative Jewish perennial volunteer corps, (in short, a cliché). I figured this work was something I was capable of doing. After all, I had been to the border twice with Armando and felt that I was at least aware of the issues involved. And I would not have to do this alone, my friend Heidi Rieger and I, along with a group of like-minded individuals were professionally trained, we were vetted by HIAS, we were matched with recent newcomers from Afghanistan and Ukraine, and we were completely out of our element.

Imagine inserting yourself into a family who has experienced great trauma in order to arrange suitable housing, schooling, medical care, language classes and employment? Imagine trying to fix all the things wrong with your family, but in a different language. What are the boundaries, what are the families’ expectations? How much can you share with an employer or a landlord or even a fellow volunteer? It is a constant and confusing exercise of going up to the line and then having to step back. They tell you when you begin this work, not to over-serve the family – a phrase I found to be ugly, after all guilt is my primary motivation for most things. But I have learned there is such a thing. As part of our training, we have been instructed to act as partners, not parents. And while you think you know what is best for the family, it is not your decision, and it is not for you to judge.

So why do I do it? Because in all my years as a perennial volunteer, I have never seen as much generosity and kindness in our community as I have seen with ReSET. You know Bet Torah is the most represented group in ReSET. There are many volunteers here from our ranks, (and I apologize for not recognizing everyone). Our core group is lead by Elaine Merker, Heidi Rieger, Jill Ratner, Brad Adler, Sharon Pollack and Neil Klar. They have driven countless miles, spent endless hours, displayed bottomless patience--all to ensure the safety and well-being of our families.

And to the community at large, thank you for the free dental and medical visits; for the free Lyft program; for housing at a reduced rent; for the food and clothing that are donated, for the employment opportunities, for the driving lessons, for the free day camp, for the computers, and for the pies and the diapers and the bicycles!

Thank you.

Thu, December 8 2022 14 Kislev 5783