Rabbi Saperstein Addresses National Immigration Rally

Today, thousands of people gathered on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to express their support for commonsense immigration reform. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke along with other prominent interfaith leaders from across the country. His prepared remarks follow:

In the words of Leviticus (19:33-34) “When strangers sojourn with you in the land you shall do them no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Thirty-six times in the Torah we are reminded of the imperative “v-ahavtem et ha-ger,” to love the stranger, to treat the stranger as ourselves. Thirty-six times for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of our society. Thirty-six times for the 5,000 children living in foster care because their parents were detained or deported. Thirty-six times for the 535 members of Congress who we come here today to hear our prayer, to pray for, to demand, and to pass immigration reform that will do justice to the ideals of America.

This issue has a special resonance with the Jewish people. Throughout history, the Jewish community has been the quintessential immigrant community, so often forced to flee from one land to another to another — looking for the lands that would accept us, lands where we could flourish, where our families could in relative freedom and where we could contribute to the greater society. But having struggled so often to adjust to societies that did not welcome our arrival, we understand all too vividly and personally the many challenges faced by today’s immigrants. In America we finally found a country that gave us more rights, more freedom, more opportunities than we had ever known anywhere in our history outside of Israel. Can we do less than ensure an America where every immigrant is treated with the same respect, and afforded safety and the opportunity to contribute?

The command is clear: “treat the stranger as yourself.” Can we reconcile God’s command with our policies that leave families separated for decades when they should be together celebrating birthdays, holidays and family milestones?

Can we reconcile God’s command when teenagers who know no other home than ours and seek to serve in our military or go to college are left living in fear for their future?

Can we reconcile God’s command with the knowledge that men and women who desire nothing more than the chance to provide for their families are left exploited and vulnerable?

We are here to say “no.” We can do better.

Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam she natan lanu hizdamnut l’taken et ha’olam. Blessed are you, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who has given us the opportunity to heal the world.

Eternal God, empower all those gathered here with confidence and eloquence to turn our lawmakers into advocates for the strangers in our midst. Inspire those lawmakers to see the light of hope and justice for all your children: Justice shall roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Let that be the blessing of this great gathering; may that be the blessing of our work today. And let us say:

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About Sarah Krinsky

Sarah Krinsky is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She is from Los Angeles, CA and graduated from Yale University in May 2012.

One Response to “Rabbi Saperstein Addresses National Immigration Rally”

  1. Norman G. Ehrlich Reply April 17, 2013 at 4:36 am

    So many ostensibly-noble sentiments. Why then do I wind up with a bitter taste in my mouth?

    A euphemism should mitigate – it should not mislead. There is no such thing as “undocumented immigrant.” “Immigrant” implies compliance with existing immigration laws. The people we’re talking about are illegal aliens – they are not folks who lost a document, thereby becoming “undocumented.”

    And I find those biblical references so grossly inappropriate that outright offensive. Should the exhortation from Leviticus be treated as an appeal to break, or assist in breaking, the existing immigration laws? Also, does Leviticus refer to an instance of several strangers present in a foreign land, to be treated with respect, or to a multimillion virtual army of invaders that have crossed the borders, and keep on crossing the borders, ignoring the laws of this land, oftentimes engaging in criminal activity, burdening the social safety net to the breaking point (voir: California, Exhibit #1) and being dramatically overrepresented in the prison population? Just how socio-politically multipurpose a policy tool is the quote from Leviticus supposed to be?

    — “Throughout history, the Jewish community has been the quintessential immigrant community, so often forced to flee from one land to another to another”

    I find this analogy unacceptable. Are the “11 million” illegal aliens (the actual number is more like 20 million) fleeing from Hitler? From the Spanish Inquisition? From carnage by the Cossacks? Further, I am not aware of ANY Jewish invasions into ANY country of the Christian Europe – and yet invasion is what we’re talking about here in the US across the Southern border. And if 22 million (or even the fictitious number of 11 million) do not amount to an invasion, what number will? 60 million? 100 million? Because it’s a sure bet that about 1 billion people from all across the globe would gladly migrate here.

    In short, aren’t there any considerations other than the sentimental ones to contemplate here? Should Jews welcome invaders who break the laws en masse, or should the Jews insist on compliance with laws and to demonstrate a bit greater loyalty to other US citizens and legal immigrants than to illegals and to all those people who still haven’t managed to sneak across the border, but perhaps, maybe, who knows, presumably-hopefully one day they successfully will?

    Lastly, has anyone forgotten the pro-amnesty marches of a few years ago in California, with a virtual sea of Mexican flags on parade and not-so-friendly “Go back to Europe!” and “This is our continent” signs? Those folks were talking to me, and I suspect they were also talking to rabbi Saperstein, if in absentia. Those folks didn’t seem like prospective US citizens, and sure as heck they didn’t quote from Leviticus. Whoever thinks that such irredentist migrations promote cohesiveness of the American society needs to revisit the Balkans.

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