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At L'Taken, Students Advocate on Refugee Resettlement

At L'Taken, Students Advocate on Refugee Resettlement

Hannah Kandall and Olivia Heilbronner

Over the winter, nearly 2,000 Reform Jewish high school students came to Washington, D.C. for the Bernard and Audre Rapaport L’Taken Social Justice Seminar, where they learn how to be effective advocates and to think about how issues of contemporary social injustice intersect with the values of our Jewish tradition. At the February, 10-13, 2017 L'Taken, Hannah Kandall and Olivia Heilbronner from Temple B'rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY, advocated on refugee resettlement in Rep. Louise Slaughter's (NY-25) office. Here is their speech:

We would like to thank you for your support in helping the 65 million refugees who have been forced to leave their homes. This number of refugees has passed the record set during World War II.

My grandfather was one of those refugees in 1938. He was six years old when he and his family started the process to leave Stuttgart, Germany. As you may know, the policy back then required refugees to have an American sponsor in order to make sure that anyone immigrating had a support system. His father had an uncle who lived in Memphis and was able to legally bring them to safety. After getting in contact with him they sent for an affidavit of support to be mailed to the U.S embassy closest to their town and awaited its arrival. Then came the most unexpected turn of events; his father and grandparents were taken to the Dachau concentration camp to work off their perceived violations of the law. They were taken before the documents ever arrived for them to leave. My grandfather and his brothers never knew if they would see them again. Then the affidavit finally arrived. His mother left for the embassy and waited to get the papers to free her husband from the camp and to start her new life; yet they refused to give them to her because they were addressed to her husband, who had been arrested, and needed the papers to be freed, but couldn’t get the papers unless he was free to get them. At last, new papers arrived address to my great grandmother, and they were free. His father was rescued from Dachau, so he and his brothers could begin their journey to the United States. Now there was only one problem; in the time between the arrival of the first affidavit and the second one, their sponsor in Memphis had passed away. When they arrived, they came as illegal immigrants, but had they not been able to come, I would sadly not be here to thank you today.

As exemplified in the story of my grandfather and his family attempting to gain their most basic human rights, the ability to gain them proved to be a difficult and lengthy task. As Jews, based on our history from wandering in Egypt to the Holocaust, we do not believe that anyone who is scared and seeking asylum should be rejected based on their race, religion, or nationality. Those principles are represented in The Refugee Act of 1980 which the Union for Reform Judaism or URJ proudly supports, as we understand the struggles faced by today’s refugees. Our Torah teaches us in Leviticus chapter 19, in the Holiness Code, that “when strangers travel with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. These strangers who travel 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”. Therefore, we feel it is our duty to aid those who we see struggling and are in need of our help.

In recent years, the United States has kindly taken in thousands of refugees and as of August of 2016, President Obama reached his set goal of accepting 10 thousand Syrian refugees and had a plan to increase the number of refugee settlements by 15 percent in 2017. Unfortunately, this progress is being threatened by President Trump’s unjust immigration and refugee executive order. We thank you for opposing this executive order. Innocent people should not be rejected safety due to their religious or national origin, this goes against the founding principles of this nation. The United States takes great pride in being ranked the leader of the free world which has been earned through hard work and perseverance by our founding fathers, some of whom were immigrants seeking religious freedom themselves. With this status, America has been the largest donor of humanitarian aid for those impacted in Syria and has supplied over 5.1 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance to Syria.

We feel America, its government, and its citizens can lead by example by supporting legislation that ensures aid to Syria and refugees emigrating from there, and opposing President Trump’s executive order, along with possible future orders that put their lives in even more danger. We thank you for your continuing support to this cause, and for taking the time to listen to us today, as this is an issue that Jews connect to personally, America connects to historically, and its citizens connect to emotionally.  

Learn more about the RAC's work on refugee and immigration issues here. You can also urge President Trump to rescind the executive order on refugees and imigration, and urge your Members of Congress to denounce its provisions, including the imposition of a religious test for entry, and urge its immediate repeal. Take action today!

Published: 2/22/2017