The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
In late January, high school students from across the country came together in Washington, D.C., for the fourth L’Taken Social Justice Seminar of the 2015-2016 season. After attending the shuk breakout program on immigration and refugee issues, Mackenzie Dyrda and Melanie Saltz from Temple Sinai in Sarasota, FL, chose to lobby their Senators and Representative about the need for comprehensive reform to fix our broken immigration system. The following is an excerpt from their impassioned advocacy speech:
Mackenzie: My name is Mackenzie Dyrda and we are here with the L’Taken Social Justice Seminar as part of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. We are here to discuss some issues with you regarding immigration. America was established as a nation of immigrants. People hope to immigrate to the United States to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families and escape persecution in their native countries. Today’s immigration system is broken. Over 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in darkness in communities across the country, making them susceptible to mistreatment and fearful of cooperating with law enforcement…
The Syrian refugee crisis has shed new light on the importance of maintaining the United States as a beacon of hope and a safe haven for people fleeing persecution and seeking a better life for themselves and their families. There must be legal ways for those in other countries who want to live a new life in the United States to immigrate safely and efficiently to our country. We can ensure our security and fulfill our highest aspirations as a nation rooted in compassion and commitment to [immigration and] refugee resettlement…
Melanie: Jewish tradition commands us to welcome strangers with courtesy and empathy. As Leviticus states, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” [19:33-34]. This motif, echoed 35 times throughout the Torah, reminds us that as Jews, we are obligated to welcome the stranger and understand the plight of our neighbor… As a result of our own experiences, Jews are mindful of the tribulations that accompany the fleeing of persecution. Unwelcome arrival and unfairly restrictive immigration policies are problems that we are able to understand from a Jewish perspective.
This social issue is so important to me that I am going to work with the refugee resettlement program with the International Rescue Committee through the URJ Mitzvah Corps. We will be given the opportunity to teach refugee children how to speak English and play soccer through immersion techniques.
Mackenzie: Through my personal ties to a Syrian immigrant family, I have been able to witness first-hand the hardships that immigrants must constantly face. The separation of their family, which was never a concerning issue before, is now a considerable obstacle they must overcome when attempting to stay in contact and reunite for family occasions such as weddings or birthdays. Constantly concerned about each other's safety, they are unable to feel at ease, [and they must grapple with] the knowledge that they cannot be together without navigating the impossible labyrinth of acquiring United States citizenship. Sadly, the struggles the family has to face are multiplied by the country from which they come and the xenophobic feelings that surround that country.