At Central Synagogue

Volunteering as Accompaniers with New Sanctuary Coalition

Posted December 13, 2018

By Liz Wagner and Susan Wagner

For American Jews, immigration to the United States is integral to our history in this country, and an important part of our family stories. It has been hard to read about the hardships mounting against immigrants today, and we knew we wanted to help. The New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) held a training session at Central Synagogue, which provided the path for us to get involved hands-on, in a way that fit into our busy schedules.

NSC trains volunteers to accompany immigrants — called “Friends” — to court hearings and ICE check-ins as they navigate the emotionally and administratively difficult system. The Friends hope, of course, to stay in this country. In the current environment, though, many will be deported. 

Each accompaniment has an experienced leader and a group of volunteers who sign up. Our role is to provide support and to bear witness to the process, following three vital principles: No Judgment; Respect; Do No Harm. 

We have learned that, though it may not seem like we’re accomplishing much by just sitting with these Friends in a waiting room or courtroom, we are indeed doing something important. Given how truly frightening the process is for immigrants and their families, having volunteers stand in solidarity with them is hugely impactful. Also, many of the judges note the presence of NSC volunteers, and it can make a difference. At the very least, we are showing that the public is watching and cares. 

Sometimes we’ve waited hours, only to learn that a hearing is postponed or there’s not room for everyone in the courtroom. Then there are times when we’ve watched a trial and seen our Friend sentenced to be deported. That’s really hard. But no matter the outcome, it’s meaningful to know that we’re doing something to make our Friends feel less alone, and helping shine a light on this human issue. As a side benefit, we’ve bonded with wonderful fellow volunteers from all over the city.

In recent months the number of accompaniments has grown significantly, and the need for volunteers is greater than ever. Volunteers are invited to participate as often or as little as their schedules allow. Our Friends are grateful for any time we can give. If this is an issue that resonates with you, we’d encourage you to participate the next time NSC holds a training at Central. We think you may find the volunteer opportunity a rewarding experience.