Women of B’nai Israel of Sacramento Responds to Migrant Crisis

June 20, 2023Eve Panush

As 35 migrants on two chartered flights from out of state were dropped off in Sacramento with no advance warning, the Women of B’nai Israel saw the developing crisis firsthand and knew what had to be done, as congregants of Congregation B’nai Israel, which is a member of SacACT (Sacramento Area Congregations Together).

SacACT immediately responded to this crisis in our community as an organizing coalition. It does not provide direct services and needed local congregations to step up and provide for the critical needs of the migrants. As an active member of SacACT, Congregation B'nai Israel became a focal point for this response, and Women of B’nai Israel was central in reacting to this crisis. Maryann Rabovsky and Sharon Rogoff, who serve on the Leadership Council of Women of B’nai Israel, took the main role in coordinating volunteers in providing bedding, food, clothing, toiletries, shoes, and much more. The migrant guests, who came from various parts of South America, initially slept at the synagogue, and the Women of B’nai Israel ensured they had a hearty breakfast to start the day. Many other Women of B’nai Israel members volunteered at our synagogue to make our guests feel welcome, safe, and cared for.

Eventually, the migrants were moved to hotels with more comfortable lodgings, but the need for support from our guests continued. On Sunday, June 11, Rabbi Mona Alfi suggested that the Women of B’nai Israel sponsor a Shabbat Dinner on Friday, June 16, to further raise funds for these crucial needs. Immediately, we went to work, publicizing the event, planning the logistics, shopping for food, and dealing with all the minute details that go into such an event. Our migrant guests volunteered to cook and serve a delicious dinner of traditional Venezuelan food.

The amount of support from Congregation B’nai Israel and our surrounding community was amazing! Almost 200 people attended the Shabbat dinner, and we raised over $4,800. Our synagogue song leader, joined by a friend, led the participants in bilingual songs celebrating our unity. The director of SacACT, Gabby Trejo, shared what our community has been doing to support our guests.

MaryAnn Rabovsky, in explaining why Congregation B’nai Israel and the Women of B’nai Israel responded so generously, stated, “In our congregation, we share our values with the world by working together and treating every person with dignity, respect, and compassion. We don’t care where you are from, what language you speak, or how you arrived here. We will welcome you into our community and help you find the safety, security, and prosperity you deserve. It has been an honor and a privilege to share our blessings with these migrants.”

One of the Venezuelan migrants told CNN in describing the Sacramento community’s actions, “Thank God those people appeared, and through them, we have been able to rest, we have been able to eat well, we have been able to change our clothes. Maybe because here we were left with a little backpack as if we were homeless people on the street.”

The Women of B’nai Israel are so proud to be part of our community’s response to a national crisis. We have turned a callous act by certain politicians into an outpouring of love and support for those fleeing oppression and seeking a better life for themselves and their families. We will continue to support these newcomers by putting on a rock n’ roll concert that we are sponsoring to support the Sacramento Refugee Resettlement Community (which has sponsored Ukrainian families as part of our HIAS Welcome Circle).

We hope our actions demonstrate how a Sisterhood of the WRJ can live our values.


WRJ passed an immigration resolution at our first assembly in 1915 and many more since then, as well as a resolution and advocacy guide in 2009 that is on point about humane treatment. Read all of our resolutions and statements about immigration and refugees on our social justice page.

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