Program helps refugees get accustomed to Pittsburgh
At the turn of the 20th century, Litvaks, Galitzianers, Russians and others came to western Pennsylvania, fleeing persecution, hoping to start a better life.
Some things never change. Only the names and dates are different.
Since 1937, Jewish Family & Children’s Service has helped thousands of individuals and families that fled their homes due to fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group or political opinions.
This year JF&CS will welcome 75 refugees from Bhutan, Myanmar (formally known as Burma), Iraq and Russia.
Leslie Aizenman is the refugee services director at Jewish Family & Children’s Service.
“One of our refugee program interns, Erin McKenna, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and very active in the Lutheran community in Pittsburgh, invited me to attend a luncheon of area Lutheran pastors. There I met Pastor Ferguson of Perry Highway Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wexford.
“The social outreach group at PHLC then contacted me for more information, so that JF&CS’s refugee program could be considered as an agency they might sponsor for the year. Every year they sponsor a different organization.”
Aizenman and several of the refugees visited the church at the end of March to discuss how members could get involved with the program.
The congregation’s Social Outreach bulletin enthusiastically promoted the refugee welcome program.
“Our congregation can help in many ways. We will help with donations to prepare the apartments for the refugees. Over the next months, we will collect essential items that the arriving refugee families will need in their new apartment — such as dishes, pots, towels, cleaning supplies and also nonperishable foods or Giant Eagle gift cards. We will also initiate an Emergency Trunk Fund which will help refugees in a crisis such as illness or unemployment. Also, there will be many volunteer opportunities. You can help by visiting assigned families or assisting with conversational English or homework. JF&CS is looking for guest speakers who work or have expertise on subjects refugees need to learn about — for example visiting the doctor/dentist or tax preparation.
“The Water Festival is a special event Burmese and Karen refugees love to celebrate. Helping refugees in need will offer us many opportunities to learn about their culture and their country — for instance by helping them as a congregation to organize and celebrate one of their special holidays.”
At a time in history when the nations of the globe continue to struggle to find peace, our generation continues to practice the centuries-old Jewish tradition of Tikun Olam in partnership with the Perry Highway Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“We were overwhelmed with PHLC’s generosity when, in addition to kitchen essentials that month, the church members donated enough furniture and other household items to outfit an entire apartment for one newly arriving refugee family.” said Aizenman.
(Dev Meyers can be reached at