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236 Kane Street / Brooklyn, NY 11231 / 718 875-1550

Family Separation

Behold, the children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase.

The “new” Pharaoh, quoted in Exodus 1: 9-10

“(Democrats)…want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our country.

President Donald J. Trump, July 19, 2018

Dear friends,

Family separation, as the Biblical quote above shows, is as old as human cruelty. The children of Hebrews under Pharaoh, Native Americans during American colonization, African-Americans during slavery, European Jews during Nazi selections were ripped from their parents’ arms. This is a horrifying but powerful tool to terrify and decimate the oppressed, and to nurture feelings of vengeance and superiority among oppressors. Further, as the practice is justified under the banner of “the law”, and as the most vulnerable are demonized, it can deaden the conscience of onlookers.

But we know that this is unequivocally evil, because of our Torah, because of the human rights accords which our country, with other Western powers, especially since the Shoah, has championed, and because of the experiences of our parents and grandparents which we feel in our bones. So, we have the teachings, the memory, and the power to say “No!” These policies will not be taken in our name. Not now! Not ever!

I understand that this family separation is only part of much a broader attack on the rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and immigrants. It is not just the 2,000 children recently separated from their parents at the border. I see kids scared and crying every time I accompany detainees to hearings at the Immigration Courts at the Department of Homeland Security building downtown. But with the special terror visited on these children at the border the Trump-Miller-Sessions axis has torn whatever shreds of decency still remained in their treatment of (especially non-white) refugees.

If there is any blessing in this tragedy it is that broad revulsion for the “zero tolerance” policy will pressure Trump to stop family separation, and open the eyes of more people to the horrors which asylum seekers, detainees, refugees and their families face every day in this country Only a ZIP code or two away from our Synagogue live many families wherein parents are frightened to take their kids to doctor’s appointments, for fear of apprehension by ICE agents.

The Talmud teaches Bimkom Sh’ein Ish, He’yei Ish which can mean “In a place where it’s hard for some to stand up, you stand up”. As Jews and as Americans we can raise our voices for those who are now imprisoned, detained, in hiding, in legal limbo, or otherwise unable to protest for themselves.

Action responses are still being developed but here–with special thanks to T’ruah: Rabbinic Call for Human Rights—are some possibilities:

  • Push your elected officials to act urgently on this crisis. Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris have introduced the Keep Families Together Act (S.3036) Here is background information from the NAACP and specific actions you can take and language you can use to urge your Senators and Congresspeople to support it.
  • For other ideas about how we can use our significant power to help powerless and harassed refugees, read this Op-ed in a recent issue of the Forward, by T’ruah Director of Organizing Rabbi Salem Pearce: “How American Jews Can Help Immigrants And Asylum Seekers”.
  • Online, Slate Magazine is running a well-researched and continually updated list of organizations providing front line support to refugees, detainees, and immigrants. They all need your financial help.
  • Outcomes for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are markedly improved if they have access to counsel. Lawyers interested in volunteering may visit the Immigration Justice Campaign.
  • News reports indicate that Ivanka Trump has privately disagreed with her father. Note this campaign from Tikkun Magazine:

    We at Tikkun’s Network of Spiritual Progressives have started a campaign — #IvankaReuniteRefugeeChildren — and are reaching out to all faith leaders, calling on you to please participate in this campaign both on behalf of your community and also by asking your community members to join this campaign. The campaign has four components:

    1 • Tweet (or send a Facebook message or post) to @IvankaTrump with the hashtag #IvankaReuniteRefugeeChildren. If she were to receive millions of tweets and messages, she just might be moved.
    2 • Include in the tweet/post your own message, a picture of you with your children, or other image that could awaken her compassion.
    3 • Sign this petition calling on her to speak with her father
    4 • Share this on Facebook and Twitter

Finally, a report about a specific action taken by our Synagogue: Today, which is also World Refugee Day, Kane Street Synagogue joined several hundred national Jewish organizations and individual Synagogues in sending Attorney General Sessions and Homeland Security Director Nielssen a “Jewish Letter condemning the ‘zero tolerance’ family separation policy”. It read, in part:

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen,

[…] we write to express our strong opposition to the recently expanded “zero-tolerance” policy that includes separating children from their migrant parents when they cross the border. This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people.

As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.[…]

For now, with gratitude for this opportunity to love the stranger together,

Rabbi Weintraub

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