#NoBanAct: We Must Never Dim Lady Liberty's Light

April 11, 2019Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

This post is adapted from remarks offered by Rabbi Jonah Pesner at the No Ban Act press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, April 10. Photo courtesy of Muslim Advocates.

Good morning. I'm a rabbi and leader of the Reform Jewish Movement, the largest and most diverse denomination in Jewish life. I am joined here today by many, many of members of my Jewish family across the Jewish spectrum. If you're part of our Jewish family, wave! Let us see you, let our Muslim families see you, let our Congress see you. And let all of America see us, because we are all here together, Jewish family and the American family, to say one clear message: no ban. If you target one religious minority, you target every religious minority.

In just a few short weeks, Jewish people will gather for our Passover seders, and we will tell the story of our Exodus from Egypt, nearly 5,000 years ago. We are commanded to show ourselves as if we ourselves came out of Egypt. So how do we show ourselves? We show ourselves by showing up, by acting, by demanding the end of all religious persecution anywhere and everywhere - including right here in the United States of America. We have too often witnessed religious persecution. We have seen signs in our history that said: No blacks, no Jews. We must be the generation that puts an end to such discrimination.

We have keenly felt this discrimination. Earlier, you heard the reference of the thousands of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust, because they were turned away from entry to our country. I'm one of the lucky ones. My grandma Fannie, when she was 16 years old, saw the rabbi of her town in Russia dragged to his death, his beard tied to a horse. She by herself got on a boat and came to America and thank God - the light of the Statue of Liberty was lit and welcomed her to this country. How many Fannie's are there today, yearning to come to this country?

This administration's ban is discriminatory. We call on all of our partners on both sides of the aisle - because this should not be a partisan question, this is an American question of enduring American values - to become the country of welcome that we aspire to be.

Let us not fall into the false binary: we can ensure the safety of our nation and uphold our historic principles of religious freedom. For generations, immigrants of all faiths have known America as a land of opportunity. We derive our strength from our diversity. Muslims and Christians and Jews and people of all faiths and people of no faith make this country great. Let not the light of Lady Liberty be dimmed. This is a time when so many millions of souls across the globe are fleeing religious persecution and discrimination. The United States needs to be a beacon of what our world ought to look like.

The No Ban Act represents a commitment to end this administration's harmful travel ban against individuals from majority Muslim countries, and includes vital protections to prevent similar executive action from being taken in the future. We call on Congress to pass the No Ban Act and ensure that America will become a welcoming place for refugees and asylum seekers.

I close with a prayer. Eloheinu, v'elohei, avoteinu, v'imoteinu. God, who is the God of our mothers and our fathers, who is the God of those who escaped the slavery of Eqypt and all the centuries of oppression. Hu y'vareich et hapalitim. Please, God, bless, support, and bring comfort to all those who are fleeing persecution.

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