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A Rabbi Visits the Border and Shares What He Saw

The humanitarian crisis is often far worse than it is made out to be in most of the press.

Down here near the border, on many occasions I have been entering various prisons, detention centers, facilities holding immigrant children, meeting with detained asylum-seekers (lacking basic rights like a fair trial) and joining the U.S. border police in their jeeps as they inspect the border and in the border detention centers.

One of the many days that I cannot remove from my head or heart was when I was recently visiting children living in a detention facility who crossed the border fleeing violence and/or poverty. They were lost, confused, and terrified for their lives. Sent back, they knew they could face death. Remaining here, they knew they would be dehumanized and terrorized. They just wanted to find their parents and a safe bed to sleep in. They were willing to move to any city where they had a relative and access to food. It was hard for them to make eye contact with any of us adults, even those of us desperately looking to serve them as allies, because they didn’t know who they could trust.

On another recent occasion, I saw a little malnourished baby wailing behind bars. At the time, I thought it was horrific. Turns out she is one of the “lucky” ones able to stay in a jail cell nursing from her mother rather than being stripped from her mother’s milk and love as we’re seeing more and more often now.

The humanitarian crisis is often far worse than it is made out to be in most of the press. Even from the most heart-wrenching pictures and articles, we don’t see a small portion of the agony involved.

The bureaucracy adds insult to injury by being disorganized, unintentional, and lacking any transparency and accountability. Those of us, who pay taxes in this country and are thus morally complicit, simply cannot claim to hold family values & respect human dignity, without dedicating some time toward resolving this crisis. As Emmanuel Levinas wrote: “Responsibility binds me as irreplaceable and unique. It binds me as elected. To the very degree to which it appeals to my responsibility, it forbids me any replacement. As unreplaceable for this responsibility, I cannot slip away from the face of my neighbor without avoidance, or without fault, or without complexes; here I am pledged to the other without any possibility of abdication.”

The Torah rejects policies that prioritize xenophobic ultra-nationalism over saving lives, preserving dignity, and reducing trauma. Consider this midrash: “God gathered the dust [of the first human] from the four corners of the world…Why from the four corners of the earth? So that if one comes from the east to the west and arrives at the end of his life as he nears departing from the world, it will not be said to him, ‘This land is not the dust of your body, it’s of mine. Go back to where you were created.” Rather, every place that a person walks, from there she was created and from there she will return’” (Yalkut Shimoni, Remez, Parshat Bereshit, ch. 1, 13). We are created as soul-ful beings not nationalistic earth-ful beings.

There is so much to do:

1. Call your elected officials

2. Donate to the groups doing great work.

3. Lead (or join) public protests in your community

4. Sign the many petitions going around

5. If you are a lawyer down here in a border state, we desperately need a few hours of your pro-bono support.

6. Pray. but Pray in a way that expands your spiritual consciousness for empathy.

7. Get licensed to foster as there are an increasing number of vulnerable children needing temporary housing

8. Mobilize your religious institution (and if they say “we avoid politics” make clear that they do not and it is religious hypocrisy since silence is a political move, often times the most consequential of political strategies). This is not “partisan.” Further, this is not “political.” This touches the core of what it means to be a human being. What it means to be a Jew. You don’t terrorize families and traumatize children as a way to deter asylum-seeking!

For the love of G-d, do anything BUT remain silent or offer justifications for terrorizing little children. May G-d have mercy on this country for turning a blind eye to the suffering of children.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, the Founder and President of YATOM, and the author of thirteen books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.



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