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How America Got Her Groove Back

How America Got Her Groove Back

March 21, 2010 was historic. Much needed health insurance reform was finally passed after a century-long struggle to provide coverage to all Americans. Cheers! 200,000 people -- twice the expected turnout -- gathered on the National Mall to demand comprehensive immigration reform under the banner of the March for America. Yahoo! I ate enough bagels at a pre-March brunch to power a small sport utility vehicle. Wowsa! Yes, March 21st shall be exalted!

As I sit at my desk trying to process the incredible events of this weekend, my thoughts return to the moment when my fellow immigration advocates and I were momentarily canopied by a gigantic, crowd-surfing American flag. I was profoundly moved by the symbolism of thousands of hands reaching out to grab this floating baldachin. Both a refuge from the sun and the emblem of hope for millions across the world who look to our country as a beacon of freedom and opportunity, this organically flowing red, white and blue canopy was the hallmark for me of the March for America.

March for America Flag.JPG

This past Sunday, the Jewish community gathered together under the banner of the We Were Strangers, Too Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform. We made posters declaring our solidarity with immigrants ("I stand with immigrants for we were ALL immigrants") and the urgency for reform ("If not now, When?"), we attached signs to our backs listing the diverse origins of our ancestors, we studied Torah, and we carbo-loaded on bagels galore!

Marching from the Hillel International offices in Chinatown to the rally site on the National Mall, we were stopped repeatedly by Latino groups who thanked us for our commitment to reform. I was struck by the expressions of surprise and delight on the faces of those reading my "Jews United for Immigration Reform" poster. I felt proud to remind others of our community's unwavering commitment to hospitality and justice for the stranger.

Jews United for CIR boy.JPGOnce we arrived at the rally, our group was happily subsumed in a crowd of thousands, chanting "Sí se puede! Sí se puede!" The energy in the air was electric; I could barely keep my feet on the ground. With each new leader (Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin T. Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, Arlene Holt Baker, Vice President, AFL-CIO) or group of leaders (the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, community organizers from around the country) who took the stage to honor our immigrant history and demand reform, our impassioned group of Jewish advocates raised our posters higher and cheered louder. There we stood, at the heart of democracy, pulsing for justice. Our voices, seamlessly harmonizing in a bilingual chorus for change, mattered.

As I watched President Obama sign the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law this morning, I was reminded of Rep. Nydia Velazquez's (D-NY) buoyant call for reform at the rally. "Health care today," she asserted, "comprehensive immigration reform tomorrow!" Health insurance reform has been an exhausting fight, but we succeeded, and now 30 million more Americans will live without the fear that illness will result in their financial demise. Let this triumph be a lesson to us; let it teach us that passion, patience and persistence can lead to progress. May this hard-won battle endow us with the momentum and courage to pursue and achieve comprehensive immigration reform that protects our families, supports our workers and safeguards our nation.

According to Rep. Velazquez and millions of immigration reform proponents throughout the country, tomorrow is today. President Obama has delivered on his promise of health insurance reform and it's time for immigration to move from the National Mall to the halls of Congress. I've got a full tank of bagel power for this ride, who's with me?

Faith leaders speak before the rally.
Video from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.

Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, Minn., speaks at the event.
Video from TCJewfolk.

Published: 3/23/2010

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