Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is hosting an art exhibit that aims to raise awareness on issues facing immigrants to the U.S. The synagogue will host a Justice Havdalah on Feb. 1 with several speakers who will also address this subject.
Titled “Building Bridges,” the exhibit is the work of Family Diversity Projects, a nonprofit based in Amherst, Massachusetts. The nonprofit seeks to educate the public on the struggles of immigrants and the contributions they have made to the U.S., said co-founder and director Peggy Gillespie.
The exhibit features a series of photographs of people who have immigrated to the U.S., accompanied by text of interviews that detail their personal stories.
“We’re doing this to educate young and old to recognize how much immigrants have contributed and created in our country, and to counteract the racism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and overall mistreatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants from all around the world expressed by the Trump administration and by others as well,” said Gillespie.
She said work began on “Building Bridges” three years ago, around the time of the 2016 election. Since its debut, the exhibit has traveled to libraries, colleges, schools, and houses of worship. One noteworthy stop along the way was Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the first schools to be integrated in America.
Another stop was Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which drew the attention of Julie Simon, co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of BHC Justice. Though BHC has no official position on the subject of immigration, the synagogue “wanted BHC members to be able to engage in a variety of ways on immigration issues through their Jewish community,” Simon said.
The Feb. 1 Justice Havdalah event will feature a trio of guest speakers, including Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen; Giuliana Valencia-Banks of the Catholic Charities’ Esperanza Center; and attorney Leslie Seid Margolis, who has traveled to volunteer at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In cities like San Diego and Tijuana, Margolis worked with groups such as the Jewish Family Service and Al Otro Lado, she said.
What Margolis saw there is “really hard to fit into a sound bite,” she said. “What I can say is that when people go to protests and say ‘Never again is now,’ never again is now. None of us are from here. What’s happening at the border is too reminiscent of what our families went through, and unless you actually experience it, you can’t really imagine what it’s like.”
Margolis praised the organizations that she worked with, saying that volunteering at Al Otro Lado “is the legal equivalent of Red Cross disaster relief.”
“It’s legal triage,” she said. “It’s an incredible organization doing extraordinary work under very challenging circumstances.”
Councilman Cohen is expected to tie his family’s personal immigration story to the ways in which the immigrants of today have helped to revitalize Baltimore, said Simon, while Valencia-Banks will inform attendees on how they personally can volunteer their services at the Esparanza Center.
Valencia-Banks said she also aims to clear up some longstanding myths regarding immigrants.
“People assume undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, when they do,” Valencia-Banks said. “It’s always a shock for people to hear that undocumented immigrants have contributed $7 billion to tax revenue over the last ten years, which is a conservative estimate. And areas of the country that have seen more immigration also see a reduction in crime.”
BHC provides other opportunities for people to get involved in supporting immigrants, said Simon. For instance, people can donate clothing, feminine hygiene products, and other critical items to the Immigration Outreach Service Center.
“However people are motivated to engage, we want to provide opportunities for them,” Simon said.