On Monday, I sent an email to my colleagues on the Mayor’s Interfaith Advisory Council to express profound concern about the executive orders on immigration and refugees, convey my support, in particular, to members of the Muslim community and ask the group what they are doing in response. Within minutes, I received the following:
“My friends, As an American Muslim, I am so proud of being a citizen of this great country seeing all the support and standing for one another. All the values we preach is being tested today. I am grateful to have friends like you. This great reaction to the unjust and inhuman decisions made by the new administration shows me once again Why America is Already Great. We must stand united.
“Last night I had to reaffirm my 17 year old daughter who is depressed with the Muslim Ban news, and did not want to go to school today, that we are not alone. We have great people who are standing against racism and Islamophobia and prejudices. Thank you for all you do. This meant a lot to me this morning!”
My friend and colleague is exactly right. We are being tested. It is a painful irony that these executive orders came as we Jews are reading through the Book of Exodus. Thirty-six times in the Torah – more than any other commandment – we are enjoined to treat the stranger justly and fairly because we “were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”
As a Jew and as an American, I deeply believe that these orders are cruel. They increase hate and make our country ultimately less safe. This issue is very personal. I would not be here had America not welcomed my grandparents in the early part of the 20th century. Indeed, many other members of my family were not able to escape the Nazis because by then the doors to the United States and other nations were closed. We Jews who have been refugees in ancient and contemporary times know that it is possible to both protect our nation’s people and its values.
The poem by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty reads, in part,
“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.”
How we respond to immigrants and refugees is not only a political matter. It is a question of values. Diverse groups of Jews and others have issued statements of condemnation. Many are writing letters and protesting.
Let us stand together, raise our voices and act to ensure that the light of liberty continues to shine for the “huddled masses yearning to be free” and for ourselves.
Please share with me what you are doing in response to these orders. Check out the HIAS website and join me in confronting this test.