Raising a Prophetic Voice for Immigrant Justice
Our hearts are breaking.
Images of immigrants attempting to cross to safety in America while we were journeying to camp or vacationing at the beach are seared in my mind. The one of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria,drowned in the Rio Grande is particularly painful. Seeing the father-daughter pair face-down in the water, sharing the same t-shirt for protection from the sun, awakens the prophetic urge inside me.
This image is not right; it is unjust, it is un-Jewish.
The prophetic voice within me echoes those of our tradition. Jeremiah reminds us that our reception in the land of Israel is contingent upon our ability not to oppress the immigrant: "If you do not oppress the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place…only then will I let you dwell in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for all time." (Jeremiah 7:6-7)
Zachariah laments the Israelites turning from those same oppressed people: “Execute true justice; deal loyally and compassionately with one another. Do not defraud the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor…” (Zachariah 7:9-10)
Indeed, our mandate is clear: The vulnerable deserve our compassion. We, the Jewish people, are called to manifest the justice God wishes for the world. Images of children in cages, separated from their parents and families and neighbors hiding from ICE agents reminds me that we have much work yet to do. When I see immigrants who are seeking refuge die on their journeys, I know that collectively we are failing. The prophet inside me cries.
As Reform Jews, we have a unique obligation to care for the immigrant because we, too, were the immigrant. The Torah instructs: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) Our collective memory, that of the entire Jewish people, is anchored by our wandering.
When our matriarch Sarah died, Abraham went to the Hittites to ask for a burial site for his wife. He explained to Ephron the Hittite, “I am an immigrant among you, sell me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead” (Genesis 23:4). Later, when the Israelites were living as strangers among the Egyptians, God heard the cries of the people and freed them from bondage.
I cry when I see those seeking refuge today, because whether one was born into or has chosen Judaism, I see all of us as those same people who once sought freedom.
When faced with oppression, we have two options. We can withdraw inward, guarding ourselves from additional hurt. “I went through all of this before,” we might say, “why must I now take great personal risk to help someone else?” Fortunately, there is another choice: We can look outward, finding ourselves and our own stories among those currently being oppressed. We can see them as part of our intimate community – individuals we love, and for whom we are most responsible.
The choice to focus our energy inward is seductive, especially given fears of rising anti-Semitism and economic instability. However, the Torah repeatedly reminds us of our obligation to love the immigrant, even if doing so is difficult. Our tradition asks us not to avoid this vulnerability, but to acknowledge it. When we do, we can both protect ourselves and embrace those who are in desperate need of our support. raise a loud, powerful prophetic voice that helps to ensure fair treatment and justice for undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and separated families.
We know that the current cruelty directed toward immigrants will not end anytime soon, and our hearts will continue to break even as our souls tell us we must continue to act. May we find the strength – within ourselves, our communities, and our tradition – to turn the pain of our broken hearts into a powerful love that heals the world.
For specific ways you can support immigrant justice initiatives, check out "What Happened in El Paso - and 6 Ways You Can Act for Immigrant Justice." To learn more, visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus Initiative Immigrant and Refugee Justice Action Center.