Turning strangers into neighbors at Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station

Volunteers from RAFT stand with a newly resettled Afghan family. Photo courtesy of Rick Cernohorsky

Temple B’nai Shalom, like many, went virtual when the pandemic hit. Their latest service project has led them back together with the goal of helping others.

The Reform synagogue in Fairfax Station has joined several other Northern Virginia places of worship to assist NOVA Resettling Afghan Families Together (RAFT), which works to relocate Afghan refugees locally.

“We’re a congregation that learns together, that acts together and that works together to put Jewish values to life,” said Rabbi David Widzer.

Widzer said that little was in place when the refugees began arriving.

“The resettlement infrastructure really was decimated. So all of the sudden when all of these Afghan families came to the United States in the wake of the Taliban takeover, they needed help,” he said.

“RAFT and Temple B’nai Shalom — we share values,” said congregant Judy Braune. “Like the importance of helping others and giving back.”

Braune recalls the first time the congregation had a drive to donate everyday household items. It proved to be a big help to RAFT.

Judy Braune with donations from Temple B’nai Shalom.
Photo courtesy of Rick Cernohorsky

“They were down to maybe a handful of each item,” Braune said. “They were expecting us to probably show up with 20 things. And we showed up with over 450 items. They told us that we had delivered a miracle.”

Volunteering with RAFT has brought Temple B’nai Shalom together in the name of a good cause. Braune said that getting from behind the Zoom screen and back into the community has been a great experience.

“To just be physically in the same spot as other members and friends of the temple has just been a wonderful connection and reconnection,” she said. “On top of that, it’s been great to meet all these different people in the community face-to-face — well mask-to-mask — and collaborate over a joint way to give back,” she said.

For Braune, lending a helping hand to Afghan families is more than just a good deed. It’s a way to show appreciation for their support of America.
“These people sacrificed their lives for us, for our country,” she said. “They put themselves and their families in danger. They were there for us. We as Jews, but also as American citizens, owe them a huge debt. They have served us a million times more than we could ever serve them.”

Resettling the families is no easy task and has a number of moving parts, according to volunteer Rick Cernohorsky. And so there are plenty of ways that members of Temple B’nai Shalom can participate. Cernohorsky himself works in RAFT’s inventory warehouse where the donations are collected for distribution to the families.

Volunteers from Temple B’nai Shalom stand in the NOVA RAFT warehouse. Photo courtesy of Rick Cernohorsky

“For the families, moving in is just the start. There’s so much else that needs to be done. Learning the bus routes, getting a driver’s license, getting the kids registered for school,” Cernohorsky said.

That’s the next stage for Temple B’nai Shalom in its collaboration with RAFT. Widzer said congregants will also make phone calls to their state delegates to urge them to support the Afghans.

“These things don’t involve time or money,” Cernohorsky said. “You just give yourself and help.”

Rick Cernohorsky stands with fellow volunteers in front of a NOVA RAFT moving van. Photo courtesy of Rick Cernohorsky

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