A year after declaring itself a sanctuary congregation, Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia officially acted on that decision last week, announcing it would protect a Guatemalan woman and her son from immigration authorities.

About 40 people gathered at the synagogue for the announcement Thursday, including other faith leaders and members of the Temple Beth Hatfiloh congregation. Maria Pablo Matias, who fled her country because of domestic violence, attended the announcement but did not speak, and her head and face remained covered.

Rabbi Seth Goldstein explained that Maria and her son were denied asylum, so rather than face deportation and persecution at home, they chose another route.

“They have chosen to go into sanctuary while a legal remedy is being sought,” he said. “We at the temple have received them with open arms.”

Goldstein said she does have attorneys, who seek a reopening of her case before the federal Board of Immigration Appeals.

Goldstein said there were two main reasons the congregation decided to welcome Maria and her son: Welcoming the stranger is rooted in their spiritual values, and because of the history of Jews and Jewish immigration in this country.


“The American Jewish community is the story of immigration, of fleeing oppression and hardship, and seeking safety and security on these shores,” he said.

Following the city of Olympia, which announced in 2016 it would be a sanctuary city, Temple Beth Hatfiloh became a sanctuary congregation in August 2018. The synagogue is one of more than 1,100 congregations throughout the country that have taken a similar step, Goldstein said.

In Washington state, it is the third congregation to offer sanctuary to an immigrant, said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. The other two are in Seattle.

Temple Beth Hatfiloh will be supported by the Greater South Sound Network for Immigration and Refugee Support, a coalition of 16 Olympia-area faith communities who have pledged mutual support to congregations offering sanctuary.

After becoming a sanctuary congregation, Temple Beth Hatfiloh learned about Maria and her son through immigrant-rights organizations, Goldstein said. She was presented to the congregation this summer and entered sanctuary this week, he said.

Churches, schools and hospitals are considered sensitive locations by immigration authorities, which is one reason “we can engage in this process,” Goldstein said.


However, in light of the recent arrest of an illegal immigrant at the Thurston County Courthouse, Goldstein acknowledged “we are mindful about what could possibly happen.”

He said the congregation is prepared to host Maria and her son for as long as it takes.

“In taking this action, we in this congregation call upon our government to address asylum law, and family separation, and develop a just immigration policy,” Goldstein said.