This has been a gut-wrenching week for us as Americans, as Jews, as human beings. Whether we’re Democrats, Republicans, Independents; whether or not we have had the privilege of raising children ourselves, or have been part of the “village” that raises everyone’s children; it doesn’t matter. Just a shred of rachmones—compassion—is all it took this week for any of us to imagine the indescribable pain for those kids, many of them just babies, as they were ripped away from their mothers and fathers, and placed in cages, without benefit even of the touch of another pair of comforting hands. How could this possibly be the United States of America?
The poet Maya Angelou, of blessed memory, reminded us of one of life’s most important lessons: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” We have never had any doubts as to who Donald Trump was, nor about the bigotry that drives him. He has told us repeatedly. When we went to the polls in November of 2016, we pulled the particular levers we did precisely because we believed him—and that holds true no matter what our decision was. So this week, when he renewed his attacks upon the people who tried to cross our border, with babes in arms and children by the hand, none of us should have been surprised in the least. Nevertheless, I have to admit it was still shocking to hear his words this week. This past Tuesday, in responding to criticism of his administration’s separation of parents and children at the southern border, Trump accused the Democrats of wanting undocumented immigrants to “infest our country.” Oh my goodness. . . how can any of us hear these words without remembering that our own people were considered as “vermin,” and “exterminated” as such, barely more than 70 years ago. It just takes your breath away.
As Jews, as Americans, we will not remain silent. Earlier this week, my colleague Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, joined Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, Rev. Aundreia Alexander of National Council of Churches; Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune; Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, and some 3 dozen additional clergy, in McAllen, TX, to visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Centralized Processing Center, and to stand in solidarity before the nation. Though they represent many different faith groups, their outcry was one of unity in protest to the cruelty of the policies that were enforced this week.
Our ancestors in the Wilderness have been wandering; and now, as our Torah portion records, they have to endure the deaths of their beloved Miriam and Aaron, who, along with their brother Moses, have led them on their journey thus far. They left behind in Egypt a cruel and brutal despot, who had enslaved them for generations. They cannot go back. But they don’t particularly know where they are, or what awaits them as they proceed on their arduous journey, and, they hope, to a better life ahead.
The Torah admonishes us, again, and yet again: You know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. . . You shall not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. . . The stranger shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love (him) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Again, and again, and again, we are admonished. Throughout our history as a people we have been driven from our homes, and forced to seek refuge in foreign lands. For most of our own ancestors, we thank God that America took them in. We cannot allow bigotry and despotism to overtake the compassion of our country. We are better than that. We are Americans. We are Jews.
Please access this link to the Religious Action Center’s recommendations for action on our part in the days and weeks ahead.
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