Two Missouri Rabbis Part of a Delegation of Rabbis, Cantors and Jewish Activists Crossing California Border, Visit Tijuana Migrant Centers

By:
Rabbi Susan Talve, Central Reform Congregation-St. Louis
Rabbi Doug Alpert, Congregation Kol Ami-Kansas City

As rabbis in our respective Missouri cities we see our shared struggles against injustice as central to both living out our Jewish values, and being exemplars of those values for our congregants and Jewish communities.  Amongst those Jewish values we hold as being paramount is the mitzvah/commandment prohibiting oppression of the stranger which evolves into the positive commandment to love the stranger.  Standing up with and for immigrants, asylum seekers, DACA recipients and migrants is all about love for the stranger.

We were proud to stand with over forty rabbis, cantors and Jewish activists from across the country who convened in San Diego and crossed the border to visit migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico.   The delegation was led by T’ruah-The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, HIAS (Jewish Refugee Organization) and Jewish Family Service of San Diego.  (This followed a day of protest and non-violent resistance in San Diego to the administration’s Operation Streamline program;  a program that goes even further in denying asylum seekers and other immigrants their legal due process, a legal right for  immigrants that has been the established law of our land for decades.  We were allies to the Latino organization Mijente who led the protest.)
We witnessed firsthand in the migrant shelters, asylum seekers; victimized by the United States shutting its doors on these courageous families fleeing violence and persecution.  We were told the story of a woman deported out of the United States and torn away from her three children.  Distraught she desperately tried to find news of her youngest son, only to learn he had committed suicide due to being separated from his mother.  This is just one of the way too many devastating stories we were witness to that has resulted from United States’ unjust and heartless immigration policy.
While this experience was and is heartbreaking for us, we felt compelled to bear direct witness to these real stories at our borders.  These stories can and must be a catalyst toward action for us and our Jewish communities; action that will not cease until immigrants, asylum seekers, migrants and refugees are afforded a life of decency, dignity and stability, and a life without fear for themselves or their children.
“For we were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  Our Torah unequivocally places us, the children of Israel as the stranger in the human story.  We must know and love the stranger like they are our own because the stranger is us.  When immigrant children are torn away from their parents by ICE in an act of government sanctioned kidnapping, the children are not their children but our children.  We do and must see these kids as our kids.
The practical response to this command to love is the radical hospitality shown by Abraham and Sarah to the visitors approaching their tent.  Many of us are here because our people needed the same open tent to save us and give our children a future.  We can open our tents and become sanctuaries and support systems for the many families seeking asylum as we work toward a more humane immigration system.
This moment in human history, the history of our country and in Jewish history is no less than a test of who we are as Jews.  Particularly as we approach the solemn day of Tisha B’Av, we ask ourselves whether or not our action (or inaction) will place us in galut, in a state of moral exile, or, will we be closer to G-d’s realm; to be holy as G-d is holy.  We are holy when we follow G-d’s Will to love the stranger because G-d loves the stranger.  (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
We urge all in our respective Jewish communities, in St. Louis and in Kansas City to fight for these strangers, Latino and other immigrant communities who love their children as we love our own.  Connect to local efforts that work for immigrant justice, and to support the work of HIAS and T’ruah who so admirably represent the best of our Jewish values.  May we all love these immigrant strangers so they are strangers no more.
See a video of Rabbi Doug speaking at the border, here.

Congregation Kol Ami is led by Rabbi Doug Alpert. A life-long Kansas City resident, Doug completed his rabbinic studies at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Riverdale, New York, and was ordained in May, 2012. Doug was the rabbinic intern at Congregation Ohev Sholom in Kansas City for three years. He holds a Masters in Judaic Studies from the Siegal College of Jewish Studies in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also an attorney, and served as the executive director of the Kansas City Jazz Commission and legal counsel for the International Association of Jazz Educators.

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