Jewish immigrants in line at Ellis Island.
The opening words of this week's Torah reading are:
"And it shall be, when you'll come to the land that Adonay, your God, is giving you as a legacy..." (D'varim/Deuteronomy 26:1)
What follows are instructions about specific agricultural practices and ethical behaviors that constitute the conditions under which the Israelites will maintain possession of the land.
But this week, as our country's leadership considers pending immigration reform, it is time to consider the implications of those very first words . . . "when you come to the land . . . ."
In fact, the very beginning of the story of God and our people begins with immigration: God turned to Avram, out of the blue (literally!) and said: Lech-l'cha meiartz'cha . . . go, take yourself out of your land . . . and from that moment on we have been involved in immigrating and wandering and journeying: Ur to Sinai to Egypt to Canaan to Egypt to Canaan (no, not a typo) to Babylonia to the Land of Israel to the Mediterranean Basin and on beyond: Europe, America, Asia, Australia . . . . not for nothing the iconic term "wandering Jew."
Closer to home, I would imagine that all of us need only look back one, two, maybe three generations before we find the courageous immigrant matriarch and/or patriarch whose journey rooted our family in the United States. One of the few cliches that conveys a deep true is that the United States is a country of immigrants.
For this reason, today I proudly joined over 1000 rabbinic colleagues around the country in signing the following open letter to Congress:
Dear Members of the 113th Congress,
We write during this High Holy Day season as Jewish clergy of all streams to add our voices to the call for the swift passage of comprehensive immigration reform. From Abraham’s journey to Canaan, to our Exodus from Egypt, to today, we are a people that has over millennia continuously been expelled, been rejected, been freed, and been welcomed. This history of migration, coupled with the most-often repeated Biblical commandment to love the stranger inspires our advocacy for immigration reform that is common-sense, compassionate and reflective of America’s history as a nation of immigrants.
Today, over 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the shadows of our communities. Families face up to decades long backlogs in acquiring visas, workers are left without protections, and children are left behind as parents are deported. Our domestic security is undermined when people live in fear of cooperating with law enforcement, and our economy suffers when we do not safely and legally acknowledge and employ millions of our country’s workers. We can, and we must, do better.
In particular, we support:
• Above all, bringing undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows” with opportunities to regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria and, over time, pursue citizenship;
• Family reunification policies that significantly reduce waiting times for separated families;
• Border protection policies that are consistent with American humanitarian values and effective against illegal migration;
• Legal avenues for both high- and low-skilled professionals and their families to enter the U.S. and work in a way that protects their safety while meeting employers’ needs; and
• Creating safe, welcoming, and humane avenues for refugees and asylum seekers who have fled persecution in their homelands to find safety and freedom in the United States.
During this Jewish High Holy Day period, we assess individually and as a community our strengths and shortcomings and commit ourselves to doing better in the future. It is in this spirit that we write urging Congress to address the shortcomings of the past and strive to do better in swiftly passing comprehensive immigration reform in the next few months.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.