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Independence and Canada Day: Immigrant Rights


Immigrant Rights 

Although Independence Day or Canada Day might seem to be a strange time of year to welcome immigrants into our community, the aspects of freedom and patriotism that pervade Independence Day makes this a wonderful time to begin thinking about immigrant rights. Judaism addresses the rights of strangers throughout the Bible and Rabbinic Literature. The mitzvah “you shall not oppress the stranger, for you were a stranger in the Land of Egypt” is actually the most common commandment in the entire Torah. These words push us to think about the rights of refugees and help us understand our duty to these new immigrants.

Jewish Texts and Values

  • You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
  • You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:16)
  • If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? (Pirkei Avot 1:14)
  • Rabbi Nathan said: Do not reproach your fellow man with a fault which is also your own. (Mechiltah, Nezikin 18)
  • Constantly informed by our history of oppression, we strive to always remember our commitment to “love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34) 
  • According to our Torah, we must be the champions of the stranger, in remembrance of our own oppression. While we as North American Jews are not faced with the oppression of being a stranger, we must continue, as we promise in our Passover Seder, to fight for the rights of others who are. (CCAR Resolution, “Religious Persecution in China,” adopted by the Board of Trustees, 2001)


Jewish-Latino Immigrant Trip: The Jewish community of Tucson worked together with the Latino community to create a teen weekend retreat in Washington, DC. The trip focused on issues of immigration and education and the teens were able to meet with representatives from HIAS, La Raza, American Jewish Committee, and other organizations to be educated on these matters. What better way to learn about the issue of immigration than to have a retreat or discussion in an inter-faith setting.

Invite a New Immigrant to Speak: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has been active for over 120 years and has facilitated the arrival of Jewish immigrants from all over the world. It has resources to connect you with new immigrants to America to speak about the issues and difficulties that occur when moving to a new country.

New Citizen Welcome Ceremonies: Many communities hold swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens on Independence Day. Congregations can partner with the local INS office and other faith and ethnic groups to host the event and/or a celebration for the new citizens by providing welcome gifts, national flags and a celebratory collation. Contact your local INS office to find out how to be of assistance.

Additional Resources

  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) - For generation after generation, HIAS has provided essential lifesaving services to world Jewry, through its mission of rescue, reunion and resettlement. As an expression of Jewish tradition and values, HIAS also responds to the migration needs of other people who are threatened and oppressed.
  • Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) - JFREJ has created a Jewish Immigrant Justice campaign that works with the Jewish and non-Jewish immigrant groups in New York City to help them organize their communities. They also work to support or oppose legislation that helps or hinders immigrants’ rights.