To the Jews who came to America in the 19th and 20th century, America was the goldene medina, “the Golden Country.” The passion Jewish immigrants had for America was based not only on the promise of American prosperity; it was based on American values that resonate deeply with Jewish values.
When Jewish immigrants heard that America was the land where “all men are created equal,” they recognized the teachings of their own tradition. For Jewish immigrants, America was a place that strove toward the Torah’s declaration that all human beings are created in the image of God and the commandment to pursue justice.
Many American Jews today are distressed by a shift in our government’s attitude toward immigrants. A recent executive order temporarily banned immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations. It is a sign that America is backtracking on the values that made us the goldene medina. Is America replacing its commitment to “liberty and justice for all” with a message of religious tests and racial profiling?
Most glaringly, our response to the horrifying refugee crisis in Syria is a betrayal of our nation’s commitment to be a moral exemplar to the world. Why now do we question one of our greatest values that helped to shape our nation? After all, these refugees have already been thoroughly vetted.
To Jews, this should be disturbing as our nation turns a blind eye to Jewish values. Ours is the tradition that taught the world the commandment to love the stranger. That law should teach us that welcoming immigrants does not make us weak. It makes us great. That is why the State of Israel recently accepted 100 refugee orphans from Syria – at the same time that the United States is shutting them out.
Many in the community are fearful the executive orders already issued are a foretaste of even harsher measures to come. There is a real concern the administration will deport millions of undocumented immigrants. That would require an unprecedented escalation of police power. (Last week it was reported that over 600 undocumented immigrants were arrested by ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) At the same time, mass deportation would tear apart millions of families.
Facing this threat to our values, we cannot fail to act. Jewish communities in Rhode Island are preparing to defend immigrants from intimidation, harassment and assaults on their rights. We are joining with our partners in other faith communities to defeat anti-immigrant measures, such as a bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly that would turn each police officer and state official into an immigration agent required to turn in every undocumented immigrant, even those who arrived in the United States as children.
The Jewish community remembers the American values that allowed our ancestors to come to this goldene medina. Now that those values are under attack, we will defend today’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
This was written on behalf of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island and the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance.
is rabbi of Temple Sinai in Cranston and chair of the CRC Social Justice committee.
SARAH MACK is rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Providence and president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.
MARTY COOPER is community relations director for the Jewish Alliance.