The current polarizing climate in our national discourse is very disconcerting. The policies and proclamations of our leaders are provoking and exacerbating tensions between political parties, ethnic and racial minorities and religious communities. Nowhere is this more felt than in the area of immigration.
Last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Enforcement Agency (ICE) threatened to round up and deport men, women and children who were "illegal". While it now appears that no action was taken (yet), the atmosphere of intimidation and fear that it fomented has created a moral crisis for those who see immigrants' rights as being threatened. I am posting two items below. One is a letter to the editor of the Denver Post that, while not published, still deserves to be heard. The other is a brief drash (short sermon) that I gave at services last Friday night.
We pray that policies based on divisiveness and hatred might give way to a more moral, sane and caring agenda.
Letter to the Editor - Denver Post
July 11, 2019
As a committed Jew, a Rabbi and the child of refugees, I was saddened to see the news that ICE is planning to begin deportation raids in Denver this weekend (“Nationwide deportation roundups to begin this weekend, according to Trump admins,” Denver Post, 7/11/2019). Many American Jews arrived here as immigrants and both my personal and our communal history, as well as my religious values compel me to speak out against these raids. The Torah commands us 36 times to love and welcome the stranger. In Denver, immigrants are our friends, neighbors and colleagues. These raids will sow fear in this vital part of our community and risk separating families by taking U.S.-born children away from undocumented parents. I urge ICE to cancel the planned raids. We need a just and compassionate immigration policy in the United States – not raids and mass deportations.
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Sr. Rabbi – Temple Emanuel, Denver.
Chukkat - July 12, 2019
In this week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, we read of how Moses is punished for disobeying God. The people are rebelling (again) and complaining that they have no water. God then tells Moses to speak to a rock and water will come forth. But Moses, instead of speaking to the rock, strikes it twice after yelling at the people: “Listen, you rebels! Shall we get water from this rock?” After he yells at the people and strikes the rock, copious water poured forth.
There are many Midrashim (rabbinic stories) about this portion. The Rabbis comment on how Moses’ punishment seems harsh. The commentators differ as to the reason. Rashi said it was because he disobeyed God. Rambam, however, says that his punishment came about because he used the words “You rebels” and struck out in anger.
From this we learn that leaders should not allow their personal anger, grudges or prejudices to dictate the policies, laws and decrees.
Governance out of anger or vengeance always leads to unhealthy and uninformed decisions.
I speak of this tonight when our City of Denver – and a few other selected cities around the country – is preparing for a surge of actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE. As we sit here, members of our community are gathering in protest at ICE facilities in Denver. The message of the protesters is that any arrests, rounding up of immigrants or threats to do so cause a huge amount of anxiety in a population that is already traumatized by family separation, harsh and inhumane holding cells and camps. Asylum seekers fleeing horrible and life-threatening situations are being treated as criminals.
It would appear that our governmental officials are acting out in anger – rather than compassion.
I am not advocating for eliminating any restrictions on immigration or asylum seeking. There must be a safe and legal way to deal with men, women and children who come to our borders seeking entry. And yet, the act of looking for a better life for oneself and one’s children is part of the history of our nation.
I am the child of a refugee.
Most of us here tonight are the descendants of men and women who fled their counties in search of a better and safer life for their families. Striking out in anger will only cause more pain and suffering – not only for those seeking a new life in the United States – but also for all of us. We reflect the values, policies and actions of our leadership and law enforcement. The way we treat outsiders will eventually impact the way we treat one another.
In the Torah, the words: “You Shall not oppress the stranger – for you know the heart of the stranger – having yourselves been strangers in the Land of Egypt” – occurs no less than 36 times.
When we shut ourselves off from the pain and suffering of those who come to us in desperate straits; when we are indifferent to their suffering and pain; when we demonize them as the “other” and ignore the root cause of their need to come to our borders, we, like Moses, are refusing to listen to God’s voice.