1977, Age Eighty
Forever and always, it seems, Jews have been the victim of religious persecution. As one group of people on the planet who know of persecution, religious profiling and xenophobia, one would hope for an accelerated Jewish sensitivity to the plight of victims of other dominant cultures. Although this is not always the case, in general, Jews in the Western world lean toward a liberal and empathetic understanding of the immigrant experience. In the words of one rabbi: “We used to advocate for the immigrants because they were Jews. Now we advocate for them because we are Jews.”
A Biblical source from the Old Testament, below, informs us of our responsibility toward the immigrant, the “stranger”:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him/her. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him/her as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Who amongst us in America, other than Native Peoples from whom we took the land, were not “strangers in the land”, coming to this foreign country to gain freedom, safety and possibility? Certainly all of our ancestors came to this New World in search of those opportunities. This very spirit of America is expressed by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish American woman who, although raised with privilege, worked diligently against anti-Semitism and ethnic and religious prejudice. Written in 1883 and put on the Statue of Liberty two decades later, her words reflect a deep value inherent in American culture:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Time has passed and times have changed. Now, in this present moment, America’s policies about immigrants have been drastically altered. Our country’s new executive announced his immigration ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an interesting choice of days. Also, the White House did not mention the Jews as part in their official statement about Holocaust Remembrance Day. In my eyes, both the timing of the ban and the omission of mentioning Jews in the formal statement form a rude and insensitive insult. The American government did not do everything in its power to assist European Jews fleeing Hitler and Nazi Germany. Along with the creation of internment camps for Japanese Americans during the War, these two shameful policies of our government historically represent the denial of this deep-seeded value of welcoming the suffering immigrant.
This new immigration ban rattles me, shakes fear loose in my belly. I imagine hearing the whisperings of fearful things to come. Yet my fear is clearly not helpful; it is not part of the solution. For the strength of reframe that I need, I look to my Grandma Sonia. I ask for her courage and her internal resilience. If she, at the age of sixteen, could make her way from Odessa to the Lower East Side of New York, alone, without support, money, language skills, or a home in which to land, surely I can sit in my kitchen and breathe and relax. Surely I can draw on her resilience, which I believe is also mine, to lean toward presence and right action. I wish my Gram was here to talk to about this. And yet, I know she surely is.
What about you? How are you managing keeping present and balanced these days? Perhaps the most helpful questions I can ask you are these:
- How are you taking care of yourself?
- What can you do to quiet your mind?
- How can you lean toward presence and right action?
Dear Readers, please keep me posted. Your responses are precious to me.