Praying Liberally: From Sudan to Haifa

Or Hadash is not your average Israeli synagogue. In the port city of Haifa, Or Hadash provides a home for the largest progressive Jewish community in Israel.

Rabbi Edgar Nof, the spiritual leader of the congregation, is a man deeply committed to Judaism and justice and for these purposes he has turned the synagogue into a home for all kinds of activities and community services, such as group therapy sessions for victims of terror, interfaith youth programs, immigration services for Ethopian immigrants and day care centers for local kids. He also has a contract from the City to perform Bar-Mitzvahs for youth with mental and physical disabilities.

Recently, Rabbi Nof has to take up an additional sacred responsibility. Over the past year, many refugees from Darfur have snuck into Israel to escape Sudanese genocide. This situation has cause quite a bit of debate in Israel, with some treating the refugees as enemies because of their illegal immigration from an enemy country, and others saying that as victims of the Holocaust, Israel is responsible for taking in and protecting these refugees.

Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, the Jewish state's Holocaust museum and memorial, recently wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urging Israel to "show solidarity" with the Sudanese refugees and help find a solution.

"As members of the Jewish people, for whom the memory of the Holocaust burns, we cannot stand by as refugees from the genocide in Darfur hammer on our doors," Shalev wrote referring to the Nazi Holocaust, when six million Jews were killed during World War Two.

But the Israeli government has been unwilling to fully accept the refugees, jailing and deporting many of them. So when a Sudanese mother and her 3 year old daughter came to Nof's synagogue, he knew it was his duty as Jew to keep them safe. Nof enrolled the daughter in one of the synagogues preschools and gave the mother a part time job doing maintenance in the synagogue. Or Hadash also bought them an apartment and connected them to their immigrant services program.

The government recently took away the family's working papers with the threat of deportation but Nof, Or Hadash and their lawyers are fighting for the mother and her daughter's legal status. Just this week they sent a letter to Israeli authorities informing them that the family will be under the synagogues protection and they will shelter them and fight against any efforts by the government to make them leave.

Rabbi Nof and Or Hadash are great examples of a religious community that supports progressive action and liberal values. They truly are Praying Liberally.