The Shofar, Temple Beth El’s monthly publication, keeps community and temple members up to date on what’s going on. Take a look at this month’s Shofar to see what’s coming up, or browse through the archives to see all that we’ve done!
Rabbi’s Ramblings (from the January Shofar)
A few weeks ago, I made my monthly visit to the local ICE Detention center, Mesa Verde. My visits are pastoral – I am there to serve Jewish detainees, to offer some learning and consolation, and to let them know that their presence there is known and that they are not forgotten. As my visit fell dur-ing Hanukkah, I brought dreydls and an electric chanukiah, along with books for the institution’s li-brary, which detainees can access.
On that Thursday I was able to visit with two long-term detainees, whose prognosis for release dete-riorates with the passage of time. One is a local young man who is an aspiring Jew, picked up at his home in East Bakersfield. The other is an older gentleman most recently from Los Angeles, origi-nally from Russia.
As often happens, I also met a new detainee. This one is an Israeli. Yedidiah is perhaps in his late 20s, and the only one of his siblings to be born in Jerusalem; the rest had the better fortune of being born here in the U.S. He has lived quietly in the Bay Area for 12 years. He entered with a visa, and he renewed that visa. But current immigration law only permits one visa renewal. He has been without proper papers for ten years, during which time he has built a life. He has employment. He has a fiancée. He has a car, which his brother had to redeem from impound at the cost of $1000. He had been admitted to Mesa Verde only the day before we met, and was understandably de-pressed and confused.
On the day he was picked up by ICE, he was watching the sunrise in a public park in San Francisco. Apparently he was profiled; he happens to be of olive-complexion, with straight dark hair.
It was not a stretch, given the parasha we were reading that week, for me to link Yedidiah to our bib-lical ancestor, Joseph – each of them a stranger in a strange land, unjustly imprisoned.
Among the morning blessings included in our siddur is this: “Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe, Who frees the captive.” This sentiment is reiterated in the Amidah (aka the Shmoneh Esrei, or Eighteen Benedictions), in the prayer Atah Gibor, wherein God is called “Matir asurim,” Lib-erator of captives. Our sages read these words as we ought – not merely as descriptors of God, but as mitzvot – Divine obligations. Indeed, there are numerous stories in our tradition about Jewish communities raising funds to redeem or ransom captive Jews.
If only the cases of Yedidiah and his cellmates were a simple matter of money.
Whatever one thinks about our immigration system, I think we can all agree that it is beyond broken.
If the laws and practices now in place had been enforced when our grandparents or great-grandparents came to this land, you and I would not be here today. Thousands of our brethren were doomed by the American immigration quotas of the 1930s and ‘40s.
We Jews of all people should know better than to allow ourselves – and our nation, and our elected representatives – to be ruled by fear and greed.
(Yes, greed – the private prisons hired utilized by ICE here in Bakersfield and elsewhere make mil-lions of dollars on government contracts, and are happy to help fill the coffers of the politicians who make it possible).
Lives are at stake. Not just a handful of Jewish lives, but the lives of other innocent human beings, cut off from their loved ones and sent to facilities like Mesa Verde, and worse. Let us not forget the migrants from across South America waiting at our border to plead their cases – among them, nu-merous women and children – who like our ancestors, are fleeing violence and persecution and un-rest in their home countries. We cannot forget them, nor turn a blind eye.
If you are at all motivated, whether by a sense of obligation or justice or compassion, I would en-courage you to reach out to KWESI, a local nonprofit whose members visit ICE detainees at Mesa Verde. You can easily find them on Facebook, or contact Dr. Liora Gubkin Malicdem of CSUB, who is among their leadership.
If you wish to help, there is a list of on-site non-profits at www.rac.org.
The Torah commands: Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. Our prayers remind us to live up to the Godliness planted within us. May we heed the lessons of our Torah and our tradition, knowing that to save one life is akin to saving an entire world.
Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein