My Family’s Refugee Story by CEO Cheryl Cook

Published Oct 18, 2019

During Sukkot, one of the most important actions we are called upon to take is to welcome strangers and offer shelter to guests in our sukkah. Amidst the greatest refugee crisis in recorded history, the need for shelter and protection has never been more clear. And yet, the number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the U.S. has just been set at an all-time low — only 18,000.

The temporary shelter of of the sukkah reminds us of our own vulnerability throughout history – as well as in this current moment – as we sadly witnessed on Yom Kippur in Halle, Germany. As white nationalism, antisemitism, and climate change intensify around the globe, more and more people will flee their homes for safety and freedom.

HIAS, Avodah’s partner and Service Corps placement organization, has issued an urgent action alert to ensure that we do not close our doors to refugees.

Sign the pledge to support refugees and asylum seekers or contact your representatives directly, here.


This is personal for so many of us. In 1938, the pogroms had started in Slovakia and my grandfather’s aunt, Linka Feder, was desperate to leave. She was 40 years old, married with four children, and wrote that she had lost most of her teeth due to malnutrition. She and her husband, David, wrote to anyone they knew in the United States for help.

(Photo: ship record of Margita, 16, and Serena, 15, who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors before their parents and two younger siblings perished in the Holocaust.)


My grandfather tried to raise enough money to bring Linka, David, and their four children over, but in the end, he could only bring two of the children, Serena and Margita, due to the requirements of the U.S. immigration system.

Like so many children fleeing their home countries today, they came as unaccompanied minors at ages 16 and 15. Serena and Margita lived. They went on to have children of their own who became attorneys, a school teacher, and a grandchild who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Linka, David, and their two younger children, Sari and Herman, who were not admitted to the U.S., were all murdered in the Holocaust. (Photo above: Ship record for Margita and Serena, ages 15 and 16, who came as unaccompanied minors to the US. their parents and two younger siblings, who were left behind in Slovakia, were murdered in the Holocaust.)

As Jews, we know all too well that when the world turns its back on refugees, tragedy follows. The time to act is now.


We encourage you to learn more about the Presidential Determination on refugees in this video and to connect with your representatives to call on them to honor our shared American and Jewish values. You can use this call script to help with your outreach.

May we provide shelter and protection to all who are vulnerable this holiday. Chag sameach – wishing you a happy Sukkot.

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