CCAR members and clergy from other faiths were in El Paso, Texas July 28-29th for two days in support of Moral Mondays at the Borderlands. We have invited them to share their experiences in a short series on RavBlog.
As a mother of a young daughter, I cannot imagine being separated from her. I look at her and cannot fathom a situation in which she’s left alone, without any supervision – not one to watch her, to help her, to keep her safe, to love her. And yet, thousands of children are in that very situation. Not in some far away land but here, on our soil. Seeking refuge from the horrors of evil, families have been driven away from their homes, churches and communities and have come to America for refuge. As Jews we are taught to welcome the stranger, and to remember that we were once the refugee looking for safety and a home.
When Reverend Barber II put out the call to clergy of all faiths to join Repairers of the Breech in El Paso for Moral Monday, in order to protest this administration’s “policy” of separating families, of parents from their children, I felt compelled to attend.
Upon arrival, I entered a modest, old church and was met with hundreds of activists, clergy from all faiths and even media. There was an energy emenating from the pews, as people joined in singing songs about justice and faith. Each of the representatives from the faith communities shared brief words, one more powerful than the next. Rabbi Rick Jacobs was our representative who gave words of Torah to us all.
Of course, Reverend Barber II gave his homily, in which he passionately described the wretched conditions the families seeking refuge are currently enduring within the walls of detention centers. Little food, no showers, no running water! People drinking from toilets! Living in cages! Young children separated from their mothers! Private companies that own the Centers are actually making money off the backs of children. Where is the humanity!? I was and remain outraged that the American government is dehumanizing people, much like what was done to our People just a few decades ago.
Together as one community, we stood united in reflective prayer and inspirational song. We listened to Fernando, the Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights as he spoke about their work advocating for migrants at the border. He introduced us to two young men who had spent time in a Detention Center – they shared their stories of starvation, of thirst, of not being able to take a shower for weeks, and of wearing the same clothing for the duration of their stay. We then listened to a family whose patriarch was taken from them; his granddaughter at age nine asked why he was being treated like a criminal. Even she knew that this was unjust. It was difficult to listen to the stories shared, but important to hear.
As rabbis, we know that in the Torah scroll we are able to distill the word Ayd or Witness from the Shema. Indeed, during my experience in El Paso, I and others heard the call to serve as moral witnesses. When I returned home to Connecticut, I held my three year old and watched her sleep. She looked so peaceful, and so cared for. My heart continues to ache for the children who have no bed to lie in, have no mommy to care for them and feel anything but peaceful.
Rabbi Joui Hessel serves as the Associate Director for the Eastern Region for Recruitment and Admissions at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.