Tag Archives: Immigration

ROR Stands with Ruth: Omer Week One

By Rabbi Karyn Kedar

This is the first in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer and the issue of immigration.

Slavery. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is universal and it is epic and it is an archetype that spans across the centuries. It is a deeply personal story. The Children of Israel stand at the edge of the wilderness and beckon us to become a part of a mixed multitude marching toward freedom. Their march, their courage and their doubt, touch our well-protected self, which tugs and pokes around our soul.

– Excerpt from Omer: A Counting by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

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I Stand with Ruth - rabbis for immigration reform

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis: Announcing “We Stand with Ruth”

by Rabbis Wendi Geffen, Elana Perry, and Erica Asch

At our Passover Seder tables, we internalize the heart of the stranger, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We remember that no one is truly free when others are oppressed.

On Pesach’s second day, we begin to count the Omer every day for 7 weeks.  The rabbis of the Talmud contextualized Sephirat haOmer as the communal spiritual re-enactment of our ancestors’ journeying from Egypt to Sinai.  The Kabbalists understood the Omer as an opportunity to refine and perfect our own lives through the journey of our souls.  At its heart, the Omer is a time of uncertainty, of living “in-between.” When the Omer concludes on the 50th day, Shavuot, we leave our uncertainty behind as we wholeheartedly embrace the Torah and ready ourselves to step into the future with openness and determination.

That precious freedom associated with Sinai reminds us that our work is far from complete, for on Shavuot we are reminded that there are “strangers” in our midst who are still oppressed, still waiting to be embraced by a welcoming community.  When we read the story of Ruth, we empathize with the “stranger” among us.  Who is “Ruth” in our society today?  She is the undocumented immigrant seeking both refuge and opportunity in our country.  The Biblical Ruth calls upon us to shine light onto the shadowed lives of the undocumented immigrants among us, and the shattered dreams of the thousands of families torn apart by deportation.  When we stand to receive the Torah, we stand with Ruth, and we accept our obligation to act.

Each Thursday of the Omer, beginning April 17, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) will post a drash written by a colleague offering insights on the Omer and the issue of immigration. (Be sure to sign up for our email updates here!) We will renew our efforts to bring immigration reform back to the forefront of American consciousness.

ROR will also be sending out a Shavuot text study designed to be taught in congregations and communities and a liturgical supplement to be included in Shavuot services. We invite you to read them, reflect on them, and share them with your community as we experience this sacred liminal time together.

This Shavuot, we recommit ourselves to working with the modern day strangers who live among us. This Shavuot, we stand with Ruth.

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) is a project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations. Learn more about their powerful grassroots work for immigration reform – and join the campaign ahead – at rac.org/ror.

For You Were Strangers in the Land of Egypt: Welcoming the Immigrant on Passover

Passover is approaching–and our imperative to advocate for immigration reform is as timely as ever. Leviticus commands, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [Leviticus 19:33-34]. This principle, to welcome the stranger, is ultimately repeated 35 times in the Torah—more than any other commandment.

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Jewish Clergy for Immigration Reform

Forcing a Vote on Immigration Reform

Earlier today, members of the House of Representatives employed a seldom-used parliamentary procedure called a discharge petition in an attempt to force a vote on H.R. 15, the House’s version of the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration bill.

A discharge petition is a “procedural tactic that allows an absolute majority of the House of Representatives (218 lawmakers) to force a floor vote on a bill, even if leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure.” Advocates consider the tactic appropriate because they believe that the majority of House members support comprehensive immigration reform, but that House leaders are obstructing a vote.

Today marked the third time this year that House Democrats have attempted to use a discharge petition to force a vote in the GOP-majority House. Unfortunately, discharge petitions rarely succeed, and supporters believe that the petition is more likely to increase pressure on leaders to call a vote, rather than force the vote itself. Two hundred House members are co-sponsors of the bill, including three Republicans, and other Republicans are expected to support the bill if it is called for a vote. But Republican supporters of the bill alike have indicated a reluctance to buck their party’s leadership by signing the discharge petition, making the leap from 200 to 218 votes almost impossible.

The discharge petition represents a fresh attempt to revive momentum for the apparently-stagnant immigration reform bill. As we move into the Passover season, this crucial issue becomes even more central to our Jewish values. As we recall the Jewish people’s story as strangers in Egypt and in strange lands throughout our history, we remember: “When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I the Eternal am your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). This commandment to welcome the stranger, repeated 35 times in the Torah, inspires our advocacy for just immigration reform for all those living in our country and seeking better lives.

Call or email your House member and ask them to support H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Doing so this week, as the discharge petition is being circulated, is especially important.

The Fast That I Desire: Honoring Esther, Seeking Justice

By Rabbi Seth Limmer

Our world has not been perfect for quite a long time.

In every age, our people have struggled to act in ways that can bring our world as-it-is ever closer to the world we know needs to be.  Two thousand years ago, when facing ravaging drought, plaguing disease, or devastating pestilence, our ancestors would abstain from food and drink.  We read of their reasoning in the Talmud: a fast day is decreed to petition God for compassion and the removal of calamity (Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4a.  The title of the tractate, Taanit, is the word for “Fast”).   The hope of old was that the community’s choice to deprive itself of basic necessities would arouse Divine Compassion, and change the future for the better.

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Esther denouncing Haman

This Fast of Esther, I’m Fasting for Immigration Reform

As an observant Jew, I, along with so many people in the Jewish community will spend today fasting and reflecting on the bravery of Queen Esther and the Jews in the Persian Empire. At that time, they gathered to fast and to pray in order to spare the Jewish people from extermination. There are seven fast days every year. But today’s fast feels different. On this day, women from across the Jewish spectrum are fasting and raising awareness to speak truth to power to achieve just, humane, and comprehensive immigration reform. As a Jew, as a woman and as an immigrant from Canada, I identify with the gravity of the mission of the day.

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Jewish Clergy for Immigration Reform

Immigration and the Cost of Inaction

Any casual observer of the news coming out of Washington, D.C. in recent months has probably noticed that the momentum in favor of comprehensive immigration reform has slowed. Although the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill last year and leaders in the House of Representatives released less-ideal Standards for immigration reform last month, the House has yet to take up a bill, and many members have expressed reluctance to move forward on this “non-urgent” issue in an election year.

It is essential to correct the misperception that immigration reform is not an urgent issue. Each day, 1,100 immigrants are deported, and President Obama’s administration is approaching its 2 millionth deportation since taking office in 2009. Each deportation costs about $5000–but more importantly, each deportation represents a family broken up, a neighbor removed from his community, or a worker taken from his job. As people of faith, we are concerned about maintaining families that are whole and unbroken, but the problems of our broken immigration system harm families and often tear them apart.

Those who are deported are often subject to an arbitrary, overburdened and deeply unfair system of immigration courts. The authority of immigration judges was greatly weakened by the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and as a result the system largely fails to take into account individual circumstances. Likewise, the detention bed mandate, in which Congress specifies the number of beds that must be filled by immigrant detainees every night (34,000), further inflates the number of deportations.

A damning new review of the U.S. Border Patrol has revealed that unacceptable deadly force is commonly used on the U.S.’s southern border. For example, “Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border.” While border security is essential to both comprehensive immigration reform and national security, our border policies need to be consistent with our humanitarian values and the rule of law.

Jewish tradition is clear on the treatment of immigrants. Our faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Leviticus commands, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [19:33-34]. This principle permeates Jewish tradition and is echoed 35 times in the Torah – the most repeated of any commandment. Our own people’s history as “strangers” reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today, and we affirm our commitment to create the same opportunities for today’s immigrants that were so valuable to our own community not so many years ago.

So while Congress dawdles, families are torn apart and the rule of law is undermined by policies that do far more harm than good. It is essential to pass comprehensive immigration reform that makes clear our national priorities.

Reform Jewish Teens Take Albany by Storm

Originally posted by Reform Jewish Voice of New York State.

“We understand that hunger is a huge issue that cannot be fixed easily. It is a multi-faceted problem and millions of Americans across the country struggle with every day. That is why we want to start small, and advocate for immediate change in New York.”—A NFTY-NAR teen advocating for anti-hunger programs.

Not enough people take the time to engage in the political process—but on Tuesday, the halls of the Legislative Office Building in Albany were teeming with students, parents, union members, lobbyists and over 40 teens from NFTY-NAR.

Tuesday is typically the busiest day of the week down at the State Capitol, but this day happened to be particularly eventful with two massive movements of education advocates converging to rally around charter schools and universal pre-k.

As part of Albany Advocacy Day, the NFTY-NAR teens were right in the middle of the action. After an intensive (and fun!) day of programming over the weekend on four crucial policy issues facing New York, a conversation with NYC Councilman Brad Lander (who is himself a former NFTY North American Social Action Vice President!) and a few hours of hard work writing lobby speeches, the teens entered the Capitol ready to meet with their legislators. Check out photos from the day here (more to come!). Read more…