Panel to address refugees seeking asylum in Israel

'Citizens of Nowhere' event the culmination of junior Dina Kapengut's advocacy projects

In the fall 2012 semester, the lines in Dina Kapengut’s world began to blur.

Both a Brandeis-Genesis Institute For Russian Jewry (BGI) fellow and a Hiatt Scholar working with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Kapengut '14 was cooking up an advocacy project for each program, but soon realized she could marry her interests: The event, “Citizens of Nowhere: African Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Modern Day Israel,” was born.

The culmination of her efforts, a panel discussion sponsored jointly by BGI and HIAS, will be held March 12, from 5:45 to 7 p.m., in the Mandel Center for Humanities atrium. BGI programs and fellowships are supported by the Genesis Philanthropy Group. The fellowships are awarded to encourage Russian-speaking students to become effective community leaders, fortified by Jewish knowledge, a systematic understanding of Russian Jewry and a commitment to the future of the Jewish people.

Kapengut said she first became interested in immigration and asylum issues while on a high school trip to Israel with a youth leadership diplomacy group.

“The trip to Tel Aviv brought it to my attention – prior to that I was on the other side of the world,” she said.

She first proposed the idea in the fall and has spent months working to bring the event to fruition. More than 60,000 unauthorized migrants in Israel have fled violence and persecution in Sudan and Eritrea. Following recent protests and violence that has resulted from efforts to offer them shelter and protection, the panel will address controversy about the response of the Jewish state to the issue of asylum seekers and the challenge of developing a successful asylum system.

Kapengut invited three distinguished panelists and a moderator to campus: Melanie Nezer, Kady Buchaan, Joanna Packer and Dara Freedman-Weiss.

Nezer is the senior director for U.S. Policy & Advocacy for HIAS, directing the Washington, D.C., office, and coordinating with HIAS’ immigration and refugee services department. She is the chair of the Refugee Council USA’s Advocacy Committee. She previously served as the immigration policy director for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Buchanan is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of Their Story First. She has a bachelor’s degree in visual and media arts from Emerson College and a master of fine arts in documentary film from American University. Her filmmaking focuses on Judaism and Israeli political issues. Her film “Exile No More” is currently in post-production.

Packer teaches at Boston Day and Evening Academy, a charter high school in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Brown University, during which she was first introduced to the issue through a Hillel trip to Israel as a volunteer for the African Refugee Development Center in Tel Aviv. She subsequently returned to Israel with a social justice fellowship through the New Israel Fund, and spent a year managing a refugee education center for adults. She is currently a member of Right Now, an international coalition launched in 2012 to advocate for the protection of African asylum seekers.

Moderator Freedman-Weiss is in the final semester of a Hornstein master’s in Jewish professional leadership and Heller MBA program at Brandeis. She earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy and political science from the University of Rochester and spent a year studying in Israel at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Freedman-Weiss spent last summer in volunteering as a higher education case worker for the African Refugee Development Center in Tel Aviv and as a grants researcher for the Jaffa Institute. 

“I think this would be a great opportunity for students who are interested in social justice, which is a prevalent topic on campus, and students who are interested in complex global challenges,” Kapengut says. “I’m really hoping to educate the community and encourage advocacy.”

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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