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Welcoming the Stranger

07/18/2019 08:45:27 AM

Jul18

Rabbi Brad Levenberg

“Balak, son of Zippur, saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. Moab was alarmed because that people was so numerous. Moab dreaded the Israelites, and Moab said to the elders of Midian, 'Now this horde will lick clean all that is about us as an ox licks up the grass of the field.'" (Numbers 22:12-4).
 
Every morning I check the news on USA Today, I scroll through Facebook, and I listen to NPR. Every evening I check Times of Israel and scroll through the news on Yahoo. During the intervening hours, when not in meetings or appointments, I read articles and online reports and forwards. And I will admit that I am sad and angry and frustrated and upset.
 
I’m not referring to President Trump's tweets about congresswomen who should “go back and fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” though I am sad and angry and frustrated and upset about that. 
 
I’m not referring to reports that Representative Omar plans on introducing a resolution this week declaring support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) movement targeting Israel, though I am sad and angry and frustrated and upset about that.
 
I’m not referring to the ignorant and insulting comments from Israel’s education minister, Rafi Peretz, comparing intermarriage of Jews to the Holocaust, though I am sad and angry and frustrated and upset about that.
 
What has left me, as well as your entire clergy team, shaken is the crisis at the US/Mexico border where we continue to see the terrifying impact of the current US immigration policy. With families separated, deplorable conditions of overcrowding, understaffing, shortages of supplies and, most certainly, a shortage of hope, we are sad, we are angry, we are frustrated. And, yes, we are upset.
 
We read in the Torah this week the story of Balak, a king who demonized our ancestors, fabricating stories designed to dehumanize our people despite our genuine desire to peacefully pass through the country on our way to a land of promise. And that is not dissimilar to the plight of the asylum seekers housed in detention centers today; these are individuals who see in America a promise and a hope. But the situation at the border has challenged that vision of America and called to task our ability to be a land of hope.
 
As Vice President Pence indicated upon his own visit to the McAllen Border station, “This is tough stuff.” The Vice President encountered, at that facility, a horrendous “stench in the facility…where nearly 400 men were housed in sweltering cages so crowded it would have been impossible for all of them to lie down. Some detainees shouted to reporters that they had been held 40 days or longer and complained that they were hungry…” (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/the-crisis-is-real-mike-pence-sees-tough-stuff-and-compassionate-work-at-texas-border-facilities/ar-AAEfcjM?li=BBnba9I). And, as of last week, 6 migrant children have died in federal detention since December. 

Every morning I check the news on USA Today, I scroll through Facebook, and I listen to NPR. Every evening I check Times of Israel and scroll through the news on Yahoo. During the intervening hours, when not in meetings or appointments, I read articles and online reports and forwards. 
 
And that is all that I do. I know that I must do more. We know that we must do more. 
 
Al Chet Shechatanu L’fanecha – for the sin that we have committed against You, O God, through our excuses, no matter how compelling, for hardening our hearts to the plight of others.
  
I believe a great many of us, clinging to our Jewish values of welcoming the stranger, of responding to suffering with kindness and compassion, of recalling our time as sojourners in the wilderness where we were demonized and dehumanized…must do more.
 
Al Chet Shechatanu L’fanecha – for the sin that we have committed against You, O God, through our excuses, no matter how compelling, for hardening our hearts to the plight of others.
 
You will hear more from your clergy and your Tzedek Council in the coming weeks and months about this issue. It is now our time to do more. And it starts with two actions:
 
First, go to the website https://www.hias.org. You will find stories and resources and actions, one of which is to send a message to Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan imploring him (and our government) to “make sure that refugees and asylum seekers are treated with dignity, compassion and respect, and that those seeking safety have access to a legal process that is fair and humane.” You can find the link on the webpage or just click here: https://act.hias.org/page/11412/petition/1.

 The second action is to send me an email if you would like to be involved with future and, most likely, more intensive efforts around this issue. I will add you to our growing list of Sinai volunteers who are looking to make a difference. 
 
Regardless of our disagreements about immigration policy, our humanity demands more of us. And our tradition commands that we do better. 
 
Baruch Atah, Adonai, Elohenu Melech Ha-Olam, Shenatan Lanu Hizdamnut l'taken et Ha-Olam. Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Brad

Click here to email Rabbi Brad

Sat, September 21 2019 21 Elul 5779