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In Their Own Words: Jewish Leaders Visit Respite Center for Immigrants in McAllen, TX

In Their Own Words: Jewish Leaders Visit Respite Center for Immigrants in McAllen, TX

Rabbi Leora Kaye at the humanitarian respite center

On Thursday, a group of 40 faith leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant faith traditions traveled to McAllen, TX, where they met with and bore witness to the families who have crossed the border in search of a better future. McAllen is home to the United States’ largest border processing and detention center. Standing together, these interfaith leaders called on the administration to provide an explanation as to how they will reunite the thousands of children separated from their families. 

The delegation included over a dozen Jewish clergy and leaders, representing the RAC, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the American Conference of Cantors, T'ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Hear from these leaders in their own words about their experience at the border:

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

In Jeremiah 31:15, we read, “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are gone.” Today, Rachel’s great sadness is being perpetrated by our own government on our own soil. We join Rachel’s cry because right here in the U.S., the land of the free, children are being detained, locked away from their parents. As a rabbi, it is a blessing to stand side by side with other rabbis, cantors, priests, imams, and pastors, and, with our presence, to demonstrate our commitment to achieving a more just and compassionate immigration system. We call for transparency in our immigration system. We say to the families we met in McAllen that we see them and hear their stories. We will always remember playing with their toddlers and seeing their smiles. We will continue to work together across lines of faith to lift our voices in unity as we say, resolute and undeterred, that families belong together.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T'ruah:

Jewish history, unfortunately has taught us too well the pain of being separated from one's family. We have also learned the tragedy that happens when the US closes its borders to those fleeing danger. That's why the 2000 rabbis and cantors of T'ruah are bringing a moral voice to insist that the US reverse these inhumane policies.

Rabbi David Stern, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

We have witnessed traumatic cruelty in our nation in these recent weeks, and if witnessing it has been traumatic, we can only begin to imagine the pain of those who suffered it directly: the parents and children whose wails tear at our hearts. The name of this policy, “Zero Tolerance,” is Orwellian at best. The practice of ripping children from their parents at the border is not Zero Tolerance. It is Zero Compassion. It is Zero Wisdom, because it deprives security professionals of discretion. It is Zero Coherence because it expends security resources indiscriminately, instead of focusing them on the populations who might put us at risk. It has been a violation of core Jewish values, and an affront to the American values of which Dreamers dream.

Cantor Jason Kaufman,  American Conference of Cantors:

I believe that there is right and there is wrong — a basic level of morality is what connects us with good-hearted people, across all communities. My Judaism is bound by a desire to care for the most vulnerable and to spread a message of love and equality.  God and Godliness lives in how we treat others.  I pray our trip shines a light onto the cruelty and injustice that is being perpetrated. I pray that we can bring a sense of the sacred to a place in desperate need of God’s love. 

Rabbi Rachel Gartner, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly:

Whether our outrage stems from a belief in the unalienable human rights of every person, or that we are all made in the image of God; and whether for you it's the Quran or the Torah or the Christian Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or the Sutras or other sacred text that affirms what we all experience in our hearts as fundamental human values - the result is the same.  We are all equally called by our conscience and by God to condemn the tearing children and parents apart and trapping them in cages in the name of a "justice" that - if this is how it is upheld -  belies the very meaning of the word. This practice is the most vividly immoral of many of our entire broken immigration system that is in serious need of complete redress. Any person of good will must agree.

Rabbi Nancy Kasten, Central Conference of American Rabbis:

The events of the day remind me of the words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who represented the Jewish community at the March on Washington in August of 1963. He said (in the gendered language of the day) that “when God created man, He created him as everybody’s neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.” I joined this delegation as an act of moral responsibility toward my neighbors, and am grateful for the opportunity to do so. 

Rabbi Leora Kaye, Union for Reform Judaism:

I read "Donde Esta El Ombliguito," [the Spanish verison of] Sandra Boynton’s classic "Where Is Your Bellybutton" many many times. And these kids - they know where their eyes, and mouth, and elbows, and bellybuttons are - but there are children who do not know where their mothers and fathers are. Yes, we are all saying just the right things. We are all doing just the right things. But we simply must do more.


To learn what you can do to, check out this post on 8 ways to take Jewish action around family separation

Published: 6/22/2018