Immigration Social Justice

For You Were Strangers…

How fitting. My last official public statement as the CCAR Chief Executive was about protection for the immigrant and the refugee.

I say “How fitting” because my own family’s history is one of flight and immigration.

My sister Karen and I are children of immigrants–our mom fled from Dortmund and our dad immigrated to the States from Vienna. One of our uncles would have been, by today’s standards, an “illegal” immigrant. Our great-grandmother was forced to return from the safety of America to Germany and died in a Concentration Camp.

Our parents saw great opportunities in this country for themselves and for their children—both of whom, to their great surprise, became rabbis!

There is no ambiguity in my world. I am alive because somebody stood up for my parents.

For many of us, such stories are part of our family’s histories. We retell them, and we will never forget them. Today, again, people are arriving in our country, seeking to fulfill for themselves the American dream that we were so blessed to be able to realize for ourselves.

As we grew up in our parents’ home, we were aware that voting was a privilege.  We had come to this country as immigrants. We became Americans. And we were proud to participate in American democracy.   

Sadly enough, on Thursday, we saw the Supreme Court betray its responsibility to protect the right of all people to participate in American democracy. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowed for the continued practice of gerrymandering, which means that some people’s voices in our country go unheard. As Justice Kagan said “Part of the court’s role in that system [of government] is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

For decades, the Reform Rabbinate–in partnership with courageous lay leadership, our cantorial colleagues, other Jewish professionals, and our interfaith clergy partners–has led the Jewish community in our shared efforts to protect the immigrant, and the right of all citizens to participate in our government.

Today, we–as Reform Jews, and, often, as children of immigrants and refugees–stand for immigrants and refugees of this generation. We raise our voices for all those who suffer from hate and discrimination, whether it’s because of their country of origin, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other aspect of their identity. Today we look to the next generation of leadership in Reform Jewish life. As Rabbi Hara Person begins her work as the new CCAR Chief Executive, and a new generation of rabbis enters their rabbinates, I am confident that we, as Reform Jews and as children of immigrants, will remain at the forefront of the battle for our values as Jews and as Americans – without any ambiguity.

Rabbi Steve Fox is the Chief Executive Emeritus of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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