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.
- 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.
Freedom and Liberty
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” are powerful words that send a chill down our backs. During Independence Day, we remember our nation’s fight for freedom that occurred long ago. This holiday allows us to reflect on the freedom that we personally possess and pushes us to realize that people all over the world lack many basic rights. Judaism teaches us that every fifty years, slaves would gain their freedom during the Jubilee Year. As Jews, we must remember that ancient call for freedom as we continue that call of liberty throughout the four corners of the world.
Jewish Texts and Values
- You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. (Leviticus 25:10)
- The essence of being cursed is being enslaved; the essence of blessing is liberty. (Sefat Emet on Leviticus 25:10)
- Rabbi Yehudah said: What does the term liberty mean? It connotes “one who dwells in a dwelling place and transports merchandise to any land.” This means that a person can live wherever they want and is not under the authority of others. (Rashi’s commentary on Leviticus 25:10)
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Declaration of Independence
- Independence Day Parade Float: Every year Temple Israel of Alameda (Alameda, CA) marches in the town’s annual Fourth of July parade. They are accompanied by a traveling klezmer band and many of the synagogue members from old to young wear t-shirts with Hebrew script. The Temple became involved with the parade after some racist and anti-Semitic incidents occurred in the town a few years ago. By marching in the parade, the Temple represents the Jewish community and is able to reach out to the wider Alameda society. In addition, the Temple has been able to do some outreach with many unaffiliated Jews in the area through this event.
- Torah and Haftarah Reading: Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center has encouraged a special Torah and Haftarah reading on Independence Day. He suggests reading Perek HaMelech (Passage on the King) from Deuteronomy 17:14-20, which speaks about the power of the King and the role of a leader to his/her people. As the Haftarah, he reads the main parts of the Declaration of Independence. Afterwards congregations can have a discussion about these texts and their meanings to our lives today. These experiences allow for a deeper understanding of the Declaration of Independence and give richer meaning to the Fourth of July for the Jewish community.
- American Historical Texts Through a Jewish Lens - Texts from the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution preamble, and the First Amendment. The texts are surrounded by Jewish texts from midrash, the Bible and the Talmud that focus on similar ideas from Jewish tradition. By reading the texts of our American historical tradition side by side with writings from Judaism, one can connect Jewish values to their celebration of Independence Day.
- American Jewish World Service - Bring justice and freedom to the rest of the world by assisting the American Jewish World Service in their work in Africa, Asia, and South America. Work hand-in-hand with AJWS through fundraising, educational programs, or study trips throughout the world.
- Human Rights Campaign- The Human Rights Campaign was established to assist the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender communities. They wish to end all discrimination against the GLBT community and work to create fundamental freedom and fairness for all people.
- RAC Shavout Holiday Guide: Further information about GLBT rights and advocacy