I appreciate the invitation to be here tonight to stand in solidarity with people of faith to support recipients of the DACA program and to affirm their place in the greater American community.
I speak not only as a rabbi of a congregation in this border region. I stand here as a grandchild of immigrants. My grandparents left the Jewish communities of Lithuania and Poland to create a new life in the American midwest. They had all arrived by 1905 in this country. Had they waited, they would have fallen victim to the 1924 Immigration Act which set limits on the number of immigrants from specific countries, including their own communities in Eastern Europe.
Dr. Jonathan Sarna, with whom I studied during my years of rabbinic school, wrote a book on the history of American Jews and Judaism. He explained that the goal of the 1924 immigration restrictions was to “restore the nation's ethnic mix to its nineteenth-century white Protestant character.” One American official reportedly told Congress around 1923 that Jews who desired to migrate to the United States were "undesirable," "of low physical and mental standards," "filthy," "un-American," and "often dangerous in their habits." The 1924 Act never specifically mentioned Jews or any other groups it sought to keep out. The motivation was still very clear. One Jewish leader of that time, Louis Marshall, lamented, "Chauvinistic nationalism is rampant. The hatred of everything foreign has become an obsession."
History sometimes seems to have a way of repeating itself that we don’t need or want. As I said at a public event earlier this year, we have seen this movie before, we didn't like it then, and we don't like it now.
However, treasured ancient texts, for me, the Torah, continue to send down to us today a message of decency, respect and compassion. This passage from Deuteronomy Chapter 10 has much to teach us now, in this moment, when we need to hear God’s voice.
יב וְעַתָּה֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מָ֚ה יְהוָֹ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ שֹׁאֵ֖ל מֵֽעִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָ֠ה אֶת־יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ לָלֶ֤כֶת בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו֙ וּלְאַֽהֲבָ֣ה אֹת֔וֹ וְלַֽעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־יְהוָֹ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:
And now, O Israel, what does the Eternal your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Eternal your God, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve the Eternal your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Eternal's commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good. Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to the Eternal your God, the earth and all that is on it! Yet it was to your ancestors that the Eternal was drawn out of love for them. Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more. For the Eternal your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
יח עֹשֶׂ֛ה מִשְׁפַּ֥ט יָת֖וֹם וְאַלְמָנָ֑ה וְאֹהֵ֣ב גֵּ֔ר לָ֥תֶת ל֖וֹ לֶ֥חֶם וְשִׂמְלָֽה: יט וַֽאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם
This passage isn’t the one that has been most often quoted as we have faced a national leadership that has a desire to define what it means to be American with a skewed sense of history and a narrow-minded perspective. I gravitated to these verses because they direct us to walk along godly paths, to do good, and to acknowledge the vastness of creation which can only remind us to be humble.
The call to “cut away the thickness around our hearts” and to refrain from taking a stiff-necked approach to community means to be open to new ideas, to act with compassion, to empathize with everyone created in the divine image, and to understand that the cries for help from our fellow human beings can and should take precedence over an inflexible application of the rule of law to every situation. Just ask the people who had legal visas to enter the United States in 1924 and were then trapped in Europe because they were told that the country-by-country quotas had already been filled. They felt abandoned and left with no hope for survival. And some of them ultimately did not survive.
The verses from Deuteronomy proclaim that God befriends the stranger, and, because of that, we must befriend the stranger as well. This passage makes it clear that this is one way to be like God.
So that is why I am standing here today - to try to be like God, to ask all people to find it in the goodness of their hearts to support recipients of DACA and other aspiring citizens who have earned a right to take their own formal place in these United States.
And so, I pray…
Eternal God, Creator and Sustainer of us all,
You are the Author of Liberty and the ultimate source of hope.
You place in every one of us a spark of your divine personality.
You are a friend to the homeless, a provider for all in despair, a fellow traveler of the refugee seeking a better life, a guide for leaders who must make difficult decisions.
And you are a steadfast companion to Dreamers who await human action to assure their well-being.
Inspire our leaders to recognize the value of diversity that can enrich our communities.
Grant the blessings of safety and a secure future to the Dreamers whose only desire is to continue the lives they began as enthusiastic contributors to our vibrant American life.
Enable us to rediscover within ourselves a generous spirit, open hearts, and boundless love that can encircle us as citizens of this nation who could also bring that love and peace to the human family.
Be our friend, Eternal One, and help us to be good friends to each other, so that no one will be left outside the circle of human decency in which they rightfully belong.
And we say Amen.