We Would Repay You Tenfold – Answering America’s Dreamers (DACA)

Treat the foreigner who dwells among you as one born among you.
Love the foreigner as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Yesterday I listened to an hour-long documentary about the long battle to get the United States to begin opening its doors to the Dreamers, young people brought to this country as children.

I cried through the entire broadcast.

I cried because the story is familiar, known, somehow visceral. It is all those things because I am a Jew.

It’s not as though we Jews do not know what it is to live in fear of expulsion. It’s not as if we Jews don’t know what it is to live on the edge of legality, without protection of kings, dukes, or modern states. It’s not as if we Jews did not carry centuries’ worth of living at the margins, in the darkness, in fear. We will be sent out, we will be thrust into danger, hunger, even death.

I do not exaggerate. Some 800,000 young people may very well be shunted back into just such a world. The government has all their information, can find them easily enough, can deport them and their families – and not infrequently to places where their lives are at risk. So much for Trump’s promises to go after all those “bad hombres” and leave these young people alone. So much for his claim that Dreamers were “incredible kids.” There are more important concerns for a man who pardoned Joe Arpaio; they are embodied by those who are still screaming “lock her up.”

And, let’s face it: Trump hardly invented anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-immigrant policies, or anti-immigrant vitriol. It is the Republican Party and Republican senators who are threatening to sue the government unless DACA is eradicated.

Remember that chant the neo-Nazis shouted through the streets of Charlottesville – “Jews will not replace us”? During the documentary, I listened to one Trump supporter express exactly the same vitriol against Dreamers, whom she blithely accused of stealing opportunities and their jobs from American kids who had the luxury to be born to citizens.

But we don’t get to choose who we are born to or how our parents make their decisions. And a goodly number of the parents of Dreamers made exactly the same decision this woman would make if her ability to feed her child was threatened: Find a way to feed the child, no matter what it took. Go where food is, where there is more safety, more opportunity. Even if it means accepting danger, it is less danger than having your child go hungry, be at risk of gang violence, have a life so tenuous it is no life.

Our biblical forefathers and foremothers, too, left their homeland for foreign countries so they could feed their children.

It is a bitter pill. One government invites these young people to come out of the shadows. We will not deport you, we said. You can work here, you can get an education here, you can start a business and pay your taxes.

And they did.

There is no economic case to be made to deport immigrants – there is a clear economic case to be made to giving them a path to citizenship. I could spend all this space citing statistics showing how important it will be for an aging population to have and to retain immigrants (and to offer them citizenship, too). I could point out that numerous reports demonstrate that our annual GDP would actually take a serious hit if we deported the immigrant population.  We could demonstrate the purchasing power of immigrants in a capitalist society, point out the businesses and jobs created by immigrants who are twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as the native born, discuss the way any costs of immigration get more than paid back in the second generation. The Dreamers’ generation.

I am thinking of students of mine who are Dreamers, who have been paying their way through college, working one night shift after another to get their out-of-state tuition paid for, struggling to make a way for themselves in a world that refuses to admit to their existence.

I keep remembering the words of one teenage Dreamer who said: “If you would only give us a chance, we would repay you tenfold.”

Have not we Jews known what it is to ask for chances? Should not the entire Jewish community be up in arms, calling senators and representatives, asking that we give these young people the chances they work hard for and the chances they deserve?

Should we Jews not know our own texts, our own mandates? Treat the foreigner who dwells among you as one born among you. Love the foreigner as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:33-34).

We ignore our God-given Torah at our own peril. Those Dreamers are us.

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Call Me Rabbi: A Letter to Representative Richard Hudson

Representative Richard Hudson, NC

All year I have struggled to get through to Representative Richard Hudson of Cabarrus County about what seems a blatant disregard for constituents who don’t happen to be Christian.  I live here and my congregation has called Cabarrus County home for over a dozen years.

My struggle began last February, when I received a newsletter from Representative Hudson. He began by describing a meeting with in which he was “struck” by President Donald Trump’s statement that “he was blessed to be raised in a ‘churched home.’” In the very next sentences, Hudson went on to say this:

“At a time when our country faces serious challenges, I believe it’s critical that we unite in placing our trust in the Lord and put the interests of the American people first.”

Hudson first touted the value of a presumably devout and Christian president and then seemed to assume that every one of his constituents should share his faith.

I wrote him. Did my representative acknowledge that his constituents included people of other faiths? Was Representative Hudson insisting that atheist constituents follow his lead in “placing our trust in the Lord”?

I wrote five times about this matter. I never received an answer to my request for a specific response in writing. I did, at one point, receive a phone call in which a staffer insisted to me that I was attacking Hudson’s right to express his beliefs.

I was writing often to Representative Hudson about a range of issues. He did respond to some of my other concerns. A pattern emerged.

I signed as Rabbi. He wrote to me as “Ms. Thiede.” Once, after I signed “Dr.” he wrote back to me using that title. He can respect my PhD, apparently, but not my ordination.

Yesterday, Representative Hudson send me his latest newsletter, entitled “We Must Act Now.”

Not one word about Charlottesville or the murder of a peaceful protester. No mention of the fact that North Carolina’s Loyal White Knights, a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan were among the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville were. They were among those who chanted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”

This past weekend, we all witnessed how President Trump dodged his responsibility to use words like “white supremacy” or “white nationalism.” When asked whether he would label the murder of Heather Heyer an act of terrorism, he refused to respond.

He did talk about the economy, though.

In like spirit, Representative Hudson sent me a newsletter about budgets and tax reform.

This morning, I had a long talk with a nice young man named Brett who works in Representative Hudson’s office.

“When someone chooses, for example, ‘reverend,” on your email system does your office use that title in their response?”

“Of course!” Brett replied.

I explained that I am the only Jewish clergyperson in Cabarrus County. I lead the only Jewish community here. Why can’t my representative respect my position as a clergyperson?

Brett apologized and said he would pass on my concerns.

But in case you don’t get to hear this the way I need to express it, I’ll say it again for you, Representative Hudson.

Representative Hudson your constituents are not all Christian.

Representative Hudson, can you respect those constituents who don’t happen to be Christian or do you believe that you only represent Christians?

Representative Hudson, you have refused, for eight months now, to acknowledge that I am an ordained rabbi. You have demonstrated a pattern of disregard for those who do not believe as you do.

Representative Hudson, you have made no discernible effort to stand against white supremacy or white nationalism.

Your choices make me wonder: With whom do you stand when it comes to bigotry and racism?

I’d like your answer in writing, please.

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Nothing Means Something: Not Responding to Charlottesville

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.
And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Y. Talmud 4:9, B.  Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.

When Paris was hit by a terrorist attack in November 2015, then candidate Trump tweeted that he was praying for victims and hostages. After the Orlando attack in June 2016, he tweeted that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day last January, the White House did not even mention the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazi regime although their eradication was Hitler’s first aim. Last February, Adam Purinton shouted “get out of my country” as he shot and killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounded Alok Madasani. President Trump said nothing. When a mosque was bombed just eight days ago in Minnesota, we heard more in the way of nothing. When David Duke tolds us that Charlottesville is a “turning point” for a movement aiming to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” no one in the White House protested. The president did not distance himself from such claims.

Nothing means something. Nothing is not merely silence. It is acquiescence. It is permission. It is consent.

When white supremacists showed up on the streets of Charlottesville this weekend heavily armed, showing off their machine guns, when they marched to Nazi slogans, wore Adolf Hitler’s words on their backs, and when they attacked counterprotesters, we heard an awful lot of nothing from our president.

When the president deigned to speak, his words were no words at all. President Trump refused to use words like “white supremacy” or “white nationalism” although these words would have said something Americans need to hear. Instead he informed the American people that there was “hatred, bigotry, and violence” on many sides. When asked, neither the president nor his spokespeople could describe what they had seen from counterprotestors that constituted bigotry or hate.

Asked whether he considered the car rammed into a crowd of protestors and act of terrorism (a tactic that has been linked to terrorism in the past), President Trump refused to respond.

He touted the economy.

Trump eventually offered his condolences to the woman killed by the young white man who used his car as a murder weapon. He praised the Virginia State police and mentioned the death of two officers in a helicopter crash. “So sad,” he tweeted.

Black people have been enslaved, robbed, imprisoned and shot in the streets and in their churches. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries have been defaced, mosques bombed. Muslims and Jews across this country have been harassed and attacked. Documented immigrants have been murdered and undocumented immigrants have been deported and separated from their families. Thomas Homan, the chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has told undocumented immigrants that they should live in fear.

There are no words to hold this pain. There are no verses that can take the measure of the murder and enslavement of peoples. There is no way to quantify terror.

Oh, wait. There is something you can do. Say nothing.

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