Strangers in a Strange Land: Jews and Immigration Reform
Thousands of years ago, the Jewish people were expelled from the land of Israel into the Diaspora. They remained there until 1948, when the Jewish people finally achieved the dream of a homeland when the State of Israel was born.
The Jewish people have never been strangers to exile or xenophobia. Having had this unique background and history enables Jews to examine the issue of immigration reform through a fresh perspective, which will hopefully add some common sense to the chaos with which this issue has been associated in recent years. The immigrants who come to the U.S. are often exploited for cheap labor while also being robbed of any semblance of human dignity and human rights. In the Bible, Moses flees from Egypt after slaying one of the Egyptians, eventually wedding Zipporah, who bears him a son, Gershom. Translated into English, Gershom means "the sojourner," and the Bible exclaims that Moses named his son thus because “I have been a stranger in a strange land.”
One of the more quotable lines from Scripture, this refers to Moses’s upbringing in Egypt and his subsequent escape to Midian. While Pharaoh’s anger with Moses after he committed murder is undeniable, the fact remains that he took Moses in as a baby when he had no cause to do so. Many years later, Zipporah’s family did the same thing in accepting Moses into their family. Moses teaches us that it is a fundamental Jewish value to accept the stranger because we, the Jewish people, have been strangers in a strange land, and we have been humbled by the experience.
The subject of immigration reform should be approached in the same way. America should be a society in which diversity and multiculturalism are embraced, not rejected. Last year, California made impressive progress on this front when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the TRUST Act, which limits the ability of local law enforcement to detain individuals for processing by federal immigration authorities. Last spring, before the TRUST Act was signed into law, a group of Reform Jews journeyed to the State Capitol building in Sacramento to lobby in support of the TRUST Act. An assemblyman passing by noticed the Jews by their kippot and stopped to ask, “You’re here about the TRUST Act?” They answered in the affirmative. “Is immigration a Jewish issue?” he asked. They responded unanimously: “We believe it is.”
There is no question that immigration reform has its challenges, but barring access to the country and deporting those who have already made a home for themselves here is not the answer either. As Jews, we must remember our ancestors who were cast out of their homes and became “strangers in a strange land.” We must extend hands of compassion and friendship to those who have need of them in order to uphold the ideal that America is the land of opportunity and acceptance of which it has always claimed to be.
Noah Tananbaum is from Belmont, MA, and attended Beth El Temple Center in Belmont. Noah goes to school at Skidmore College and is majoring in government. While in DC this summer, Noah interned at the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA).