In 2003, Rabbi Lee T. Bycel traveled to Africa to work with refugees. With International Medical Corps, his first trip was to Darfur in western Sudan.

The experience of seeing the camps and working around the clock to provide sanitation and health care for people who’d been through unimaginable struggle had a profound impact on him.

Bycel wanted to be more than a bystander, and it was the refugees “journey, the desperation, but yet their incredible humanity and hope” that drew him to learn more about their lives. Over the next six years he raised millions of dollars to build clinics, provide equipment and improve access to medicine for refugees. 

Bycel, the Coastside Jewish Community visiting scholar and High Holiday rabbi, will discuss his upcoming book “Refugees in America: Stories of Courage, Resilience, and Hope in Their Own Words” at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 at the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows Hall. This free event is part of a monthly series of speakers at the hall with topics including history, science, politics and more. All proceeds will be donated to the nonprofits International Rescue Committee and HIAS. The Odd Fellows Ocean View Lodge 143 is located at 526 Main St. in Half Moon Bay. 

The book, set for release on Sept. 13, chronicles the remarkable and harrowing journeys of 11 refugees of different ages and countries as they experience war, oppression and eventually traveling and living in the United States.

“I was so moved by what I heard,” Bycel said. “It’s very tough to leave everything behind and start anew in this country. And they’re all grateful to be here, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

Bycel traveled to camps in Sudan, Chad, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Haiti. He currently serves as the Sinton Visiting Professor of Holocaust, Ethics and Refugee Studies at the University of San Francisco. In 2014, Bycel was appointed by President Obama to the Board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Bycel wants people to understand the context and history of refugees in the United States, but also to go beyond the political rhetoric and find the ethical issues, which he hopes can lead to action and eventually immigration reform. 

“My first goal for this book is to reclaim the voice of the refugee,” Bycel explained. “To see them not as labels, not as a group, but as human beings with exceptional stories who are just like you and me in so many ways.” 

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