NYC synagogue throws Christmas party

It’s not a sight you often see, members of SAJ Synagogue on the Upper West Side, celebrating Christmas.

It was for a good cause. Volunteers came together Sunday, to serve a Christmas dinner to more than 100 asylum seekers and their families, who, after making some incredibly difficult journeys, are living in hotels and don’t have access to hot, home-cooked meals.

Jewish volunteers celebrated Christmas for the first time in their lives, using the day of feasting and gift-giving to serve migrants seeking asylum.

"I came from Ecuador," one migrant told FOX 5 News. "Then we came through Columbia, passing through Colombia, the Darien Gap, and Mexico."

The journey was very difficult. She had to watch as two people in her group drowned in a river.

Both Maria and Carla, a migrant from Cuba, agreed – traveling through Mexico was the hardest.

"I suffered a lot," Carla said. "I got kidnaped, robbed. But now I’m here." 

"The trauma of crossing the rivers and the border, and all the health issues that go with it – it’s more than admirable," said Gale Brewer, an NYC Council member who volunteered at the event. "It’s kind of unbelievable. And they’re still standing pleasant, resourceful. All they want to do is work."

More than 20,000 migrants have arrived in New York this year, the majority fleeing poverty, authoritarian governments, and violence, some traveling more than 2,000 miles over than span of three months to get here.

Maria was able to bring her three kids. Carla, who held back tears, said she had to leave her son behind.  

"And for him, I’m here," Carla said. "To give him a better life." 

"It’s just so incredible knowing what they’ve gone through, that these kids can sit here and smile and do arts and crafts and behave like any other children," said Allison Spitz, a board member at SAJ Synagogue.  

The kids ate hot, home-cooked South American food, opened gifts, ate cookies, and posed with Santa. The parents were just grateful to be on American soil, and to have the chance of building a better life.  

"Thank God we’re here in New York," Maria said.  

SAJ Synagogue partnered with Team TLC, an asylum seeker support organization, to make the Christmas dinner happen. About 115 people attended, the majority were children.