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How Park Slope’s Emily Berger Honors Her Family’s Past by Supporting Immigrants Today

Stories of Brooklyn Giving

A group of people are moving furniture up a set of stairs.
Courtesy of Ruth's Refuge

Our 2023 Brooklyn Gives on GivingTuesday campaign wouldn’t have been the success that it was without the hard work of peer-to-peer fundraisers, who led their own fundraising campaigns for Brooklyn nonprofits of their choice.

We spoke with Emily Berger, a Park Slope painter and artist who raised over $8,300 for Ruth’s Refuge, a nonprofit providing furniture to asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants in Brooklyn. Emily is a member of Congregation Beth Elohim, and has lived in Park Slope for almost 40 years.

Brooklyn Org: How were you first introduced to Ruth’s Refuge’s work?

Emily Berger: I joined Beth Elohim when my children were small and I was always interested in social action and social justice issues. It’s part of my Judaism, that’s how I was raised, so I joined the Social Action Committee. The Refugee Task Force was formed during the Syrian refugee crisis.. It was all volunteer-based, and was quite a logistical problem. We had people driving trucks down from New Hampshire and storing donated goods in somebody’s basement and then trying to distribute them. It was a wonderful thing, but it was very difficult to coordinate. But [Ruth Refuge’s current executive director] Leah really pushed and never gave up. When she started Ruth’s Refuge, it was just natural for me to continue to help with that. I continue to volunteer with them by helping with fundraising and sometimes I’ll do some inventory work at the storage units.

$8.3K+ raised for Ruth's Refuge through peer-to-peer fundraising

BKO: What about Ruth’s Refuge’s mission resonates with you?

EB: This idea of people having to flee their countries of origin is a personal one because as a Jew of Eastern European Jewish background, I had family who left Eastern Europe, and I had family who didn’t leave and were murdered. So I feel very strongly that migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers need our help. I think that there’s a lot of fear in this country, and there’s a lot of hate, and it’s something that we have to continue to try and fight against. And this is one way to do it. I really appreciate the opportunity to do something very concrete and direct – we are not trying to change the whole system right now, because it just seems impossible. But in the meantime, we can certainly help people who are in need, and are fleeing terrible circumstances, and try to welcome them to our country as best we can.

BKO: How do you approach fundraising within your circles and communities?

EB: I’ve always felt that fundraising is an important part of all this. We have a community of people here who are very well resourced and very lucky. And I think it’s a great way for people to help. I think people are touched by the situation, but often, people don’t know what they can do to help. And this is something that they can do.

We can certainly help people who are in need, and are fleeing terrible circumstances, and try to welcome them to our country as best we can. Emily Berger, Ruth's Refuge Peer to Peer Fundraiser

BKO: What do you love about your Brooklyn community? 

EB: I like the fact that it’s a pretty liberal community. For the most part, I think that people are friendly and want to be helpful. And I think it’s a beautiful place to live – I was very happy to be able to raise my children near Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Botanic Gardens, the zoo and all these kinds of wonderful resources. It’s a diverse community, and I wish it was more so. It’s a community that provides one with a lot of opportunities to help people and work together with others. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people here.