Groups adding immigration reform to Shabbat tableby dan pine, j. staff
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Susan Lubeck has a few choice words for those opposed to immigration reform. The words come from the Torah.
“One of the oft-repeated texts is to welcome the stranger because we were strangers,” said Lubeck, regional director of Bend the Arc, a national Jewish nonprofit focused on social justice issues. “Our history of diaspora, oppression and closed borders is a core part of our narrative, going back to the Exodus. Jews resonate with the plight of 11 million undocumented immigrants who don’t have a path to citizenship.”
As immigration reform legislation makes its way through Congress, Bend the Arc has launched the Immigration Shabbat project in California. It’s being done in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
One recent event occurred at The Kitchen, a Jewish community in San Francisco, where a post-Shabbat discussion was held Aug. 2. A week later, an immigration Shabbat event co-hosted by Kehilla Community Synagogue and Jewish Youth for Community Action was held adjacent to a weekly gathering of food trucks in Oakland.
Others involved include: Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills; Congregations Emanu-El and Sherith Israel in San Francisco; Temple Sinai in Oakland; Netivot Shalom in Berkeley; Hillel at Stanford; Camp Newman in Santa Rosa; and the JCC of San Francisco. Events will continue through the High Holy Days and maybe beyond.
The events center around using Jewish content to hammer home the immigration message, Lubeck said. “Another element is some kind of teaching or interaction,” she added, “then some way to take action.”
That could mean contacting representatives in Congress to urge passage of pending reform legislation, or urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a “bill of rights” for domestic workers, 23 percent of whom reportedly are undocumented immigrants.
Jessica Trubowitch, the legislative director of the S.F.-based JCRC, said her agency has been working on immigrant rights for years.
“Most Jews have an immigrant story in their family,” Trubowitch said. “We also recognize the value of immigrants in our communities. We say everyone has a right to a good life. Many people are escaping horrible conditions in their home countries. There are many reasons why they come, and there’s value in making sure they are part of our communities.”
Rabbi Melanie Aron signed up her synagogue, Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, for an Aug. 30 event featuring guest speaker Esha Menon, director of the Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice. Aron has been an immigration activist for years, and traveled to Sacramento in May to serve as a citizen lobbyist on immigration issues.
“Jews understand the plight of the immigrant,” she said. “We know what it is to have doors shut against us.”
As an ancillary benefit to the activism, Aron said, Latinos and immigrant rights organizations will see a visibly supportive Jewish community in their corner.
“They don’t necessarily know Jews, or they come from countries with no large Jewish community,” she said. “Getting to meet Jews is very important.”
One thing that might not occur, no matter how hard the Jewish community pushes, is actual passage of the bill. Though the Senate passed reform legislation, the bill has become mired in the House of Representatives. Unless a few Republicans buck their own party, the bill as it stands now will fail.
Lubeck understands this but thinks the effort remains worthwhile.
“There’s something very powerful about Jews acting as Jews,” she said. “We speak from our tradition, and can bring this above the partisan fray. We have a unique ability to elevate this debate and add to the impact when we do this as Jews.”
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