New York shul launches scheme to help immigrants
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New York shul launches scheme to help immigrants

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) has attracted some of New York’s top lawyers to volunteer at its weekly legal clinics

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (Google Maps)
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (Google Maps)

A New York synagogue has launched two partnerships designed to help both immigrants who are asylum seekers, and Russian-speaking Jews in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) has attracted some of New York’s top lawyers to volunteer at its weekly legal clinics. Help is on offer pro bono to immigrants who need help in completing asylum applications, and to learn what other legal services they might need. It receives a grant from the UJA-Federation of New York.

The congregation also works with RUSA LGBT, a group initially formed to unify and support Russian-speaking Jews in the LGBTQ community. But violent physical attacks on LGBTQ people in the former Soviet Union have increased. As a result many Russian-speaking – but not necessarily Jewish – immigrants began seeking support from CBST and the scope of the group expanded.

One of the congregation’s rabbis, Marisa James, said: “It really feels like each successive generation of immigrants is figuring out how to welcome and support the next one, and that’s wonderful”.

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