Listen to Rabbi Lara's June 22 Shabbat sermon here.
Here is the full transcript:
“A Safe Life for All”
By: Rabbi Lara Regev, June 22, 2018 • 9 Tamuz 5778
Congregation Rodef Sholom • San Rafael, CA
Two weeks ago my family took a trip to New York City, Noah’s first big trip to the Big Apple. We love New York City and took full advantage of our time there, seeing a show, eating the best babka in town, riding the subway as far as it could go, taking in the sights and sounds of times Square, watching the ducks in Central Park, and so much more. On day three of our trip there, the clouds filled the sky and rain was in the forecast, and that humidity that you can only feel on the East Coast before a rainstorm filled the air. It’s hard to figure out what to do with a two-year-old in New York City when it might rain, so we took to the subway once again and rode it all the way downtown. When we reached the end of the line, we took the stairs up to Battery Park, got our tickets, and boarded the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The water rocked us side to side as we boarded the boat packed with tourists and school groups, people who were hoping for a site at these famous monuments, people who were seeking to learn and to know and to touch and feel the American dream.
We rode through the waters of the bay and finally pulled up to the dock of Liberty Island. I put Noah up next to me on a bench and said to him, “There she is. Isn’t she so tall?” Noah replied in his own little innocent voice, “Yeah.” I asked, “Isn’t she beautiful?” He said, “Yeah.” There was my Noah, wide-eyed and filled with awe at this statue, this monument, this awesome gift that our nation received in 1886 with the abolition of slavery, with a wish for freedom and democracy in these United States. Her words, contributed to our history by Emma Lazarus, ring out in truth and justice, day after day, for all people to see:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This golden door, this island, this opening to our beautiful country was once a pathway for immigrants from lands far and wide to come join the dreamers. It was through that golden door that many of our own ancestors came to this country. Our founding father, George Washington, said it best: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…” The oppressed, the persecuted, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the homeless, tempest-tost, and the stranger, not only because we were once strangers, but because they all, we all, should be treated with dignity in a just society where our rights and privileges are equal.
What would it be like for everyone in this country to look at each person who entered our borders with the same dignity and respect we would our own families, our own parents, our best friend, our neighbor next door? What would it be like if those borders became pathways, if our land could go back to being the land of the free and the home of the brave, not only because of those brave who fought for this land and for its future, but for those who entered it as well, for they might be the bravest in the world for what they have faced to come here in the first place.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, joined 40 religious leaders, rabbis, pastors, priests and imams, on a mission to McAllen, TX this week. She wrote that she visited with 3 families during her time there, “each consisting of one parent with one or two very small children: A mom fleeing civil war in Guatemala with her 2-year-old and 6-year-old sons; a dad from El Salvador fleeing with his 2-year-old son, and another dad from Honduras with his 4-year-old son. The dad with the 4-year-old had left his wife and older children at home. All spoke of month-long journeys by bus, taxi, and foot; of intimidation and abuse by smugglers; of dangerous conditions; and of their hopes of giving their children a safe life in the United States.”
A safe life. The dangerous trek, the risk of separation, the knowledge of the struggles and challenges they will face once they arrive. All of this they choose to face for the desire for a safe life. Is that too much to ask for? I know, we know, that the answer is no, that all people deserve a safe life. ALL people. These people that have come to our borders day after day aren’t coming because they want the pretty roses and they beautiful views. They’re coming because they too have a dream, much like the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. had of equality and freedom in a just society, one where they aren’t persecuted, or fearing for their lives, or living in danger day after day.
In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, the Israelites have no water to drink, so again Moses and Aaron plead to God to give them water, to nourish the people, to help them help their own. God tells Moses to take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water, and water will appear for the people and their animals to drink. Moses took the rod. He gathered the people, and then he struck the rod twice. And in one simple verse of Torah, God replied saying, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”
In one simple verse, Moses’ future was changed. He was no longer permitted to enter his promised land, to guide the people to their safety, to their new home, to a land flowing with milk and honey. In an instant, all of that was taken away from him because he chose an action that God did not agree with.
But these immigrants who come to this country are looking for leaders who can guide them in truth and in justice, where they can flourish and live in freedom and not in fear, where they don’t have to think day in and day out that, like Moses, their journeys might be cut short, that they might not ever even get the opportunity to enjoy the promise in this land, where their children can breathe free and not live in fear of persecution, of intimidation, of abuse, of rape, of drugs, of war and so much more.
I taught this lesson at Yom Kippur a couple of years ago: The Hebrew word for responsibility is Achrayut. It begins with the letter Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a letter that cannot stand on it’s own for it only makes a sound when accompanied by a vowel or letter. When you add the second letter, a Chet, you get the word “ach,” “brother.” And when you add the next letter, a Resh, you have built the word “acher,” “other.” The Hebrew word for responsibility contains the words for brother and other in it together. You cannot have responsibility without care for your brother, but it is also our responsibility to care for the other. We cannot separate those out or differentiate between the two. They are interwoven concepts that cannot stand on their own.
For me, this continues to help me to struggle with and to begin to understand the interconnectedness of it all. We are all connected, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, young, old, black, white, Syrian, Mexican, Guatamalen, Honduran, Salvadoran. All of us. Connected. Brothers and sisters. The family in our midst AND the stranger that resides with us AND the stranger that has not yet been welcomed to this land of the free and the home of the brave. Responsible not only for those who are here, but for every person on this planet who deserves a safe life.
If you would like to do something, here are some suggestions of where to begin:
- Provide tangible support to detainees and families by gathering and sending care packages to the border. The Reform Synagogue in McAllen, TX is collecting many items that are needed. The complete list can be found on the Union for Reform Judaism’s website.
- Join the Families Belong Together march next Saturday June 30th in San Francisco. The march begins at Delores Park at 10:00am. From there, the group will march to San Francisco City Hall. For more information about this and other events throughout the Bay Area, check out moveon.org.
- Send a letter or call our senators and representatives and demand that they help to make a difference today.
- If you have not already, register to vote and encourage others to register to vote now so they are ready for our next election
- Join the ongoing social justice efforts and mailing list here at Rodef Sholom. Check out more and sign-up on our Rodef Sholom website.
In 1918 during World War I, Irving Berlin crafted a prayer for this country of ours:
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the praries
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home,
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, our home, not so sweet today, but still filled with all the hope and promise we can muster, and a golden door that might once again be open for all to enter.