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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The Cloak of Visibility in the Book of Ruth – A Teaching for Today (Really)

The Cloak of Conscience by Anna Chromy

For the past six months I have been exploring, together with various Christian church communities, the issue of immigration through a shared text: The Book of Ruth.

There is much to say about the way the immigrant is seen (or not) in this text. The Israelite Naomi all but ignores her Moabite daughter-in-law’s moving declaration of loyalty and love. Naomi sends Ruth into a truly dangerous setting in pursuit of a man who will answer all their problems, and says nothing when Ruth’s child is handed over to her at the close of the book. The narrator reminds us several times that Ruth is a Moabitess, a member of the tribe that seduced the Israelites at Baal Peor and whose ancestry stems from an incestuous one-nighter between Lot and one of his daughters.

The story begins with human beings going hungry: the famine in Bethlehem leads to Naomi’s family emigrating to Moab, an enemy territory, in search of sustenance. That initial misery is followed by others, it cascades, expands, consumes – it seems – every hope; Naomi loses not only her husband, but her children. Ruth “clings” to her mother-in-law as if she were her only tie to any kind of safety. Both go hungry when they return from Bethlehem in search of the sustenance granted others; the villagers and kinsmen ignore their plight.

Today, I read my daughter-in-law’s Facebook post about the famine in East Africa. She notes that the famine has nothing to do with natural disasters. It’s caused by civil wars.

We pass by the world’s pain and dust it off our spiritual sleeves. We are the villagers who noticed the arrival of the widows at the close of chapter 1 and then did nothing to support or help them. We are the ones who read of immigrants trapped and dying in a boiling truck, and of women and children crossing deserts in desperate, often fatal, attempts to escape violence. We know what our administration’s answer is to the need of human beings to live with dignity: In America, when such men, women, and children cross our borders, we send them to inhumane detention centers which treat them like slaves (literally) and which profit from their presence. We will tear – and we have torn – parents from children. We have deported people who have lived honorably, only seeking to find a way to live safely and legally in a country they, too, love.

In the Book of Ruth, it is the immigrant Moabite who finds a way out. She notes Naomi’s mention of Boaz as a redeeming kinsman who could restore to Naomi the land her husband left behind. She combines that important information with the knowledge of the levirate she gained when Naomi bewailed the fact that she was too old to provide sons who could marry Ruth and Orpah and sire sons for their dead husbands. It is Ruth who first puts redemption and levirate law together. When Boaz asks who she is when she appears on the threshing floor in the middle of the night, Ruth answers: “I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread your robe over your handmaid, for you are a redeeming kinsman” (Ruth 3:9).

In one fell swoop Ruth has proposed to Boaz, hinting at a potential role as a levir. In the same verse she names him a go’el, a redeemer. Though the law as written in bible hardly makes Boaz a levir, he concurs, and insists on defining himself as one in the final chapter, proclaiming his intention to sire a son in Ruth’s first husband’s name (4:10).

“Spread your robe over me,” Ruth says, using the word kanaf. Here, it means the edge of a garment. But the word can also mean “wings,” and Boaz uses it in exactly that sense, when he blesses Ruth with the prayer that YHVH spread his wings over her in protection (2:12).

Ruth gave Boaz, in essence, a cloak of visibility. Only when he spread it over her did he truly understand, calling her an eshet chayil, a woman of strength and valor. The legal maneuvering Ruth set in motion is later presented to the community by Boaz and sanctioned by ten elders and the villagers.

I do not find it a happy development that it is, yet again, the foreigner, the minority, the woman, and the immigrant who has to brave danger in order to make the privileged (male) see her. Boaz has had to be reminded that Ruth and Naomi exist, that they are in trouble. Neither Boaz nor anyone else came to the aid of these two women when they returned to Bethlehem.

Today, President Trump called for 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. He agitated again for the building of his border wall with Mexico and measures against sanctuary cities and insisted on legislation to expedite the removal of undocumented immigrants from Central America.

We are the villagers. We are Boaz. Can we be better? What, when we look, do we see? When we see, what, then, must we do?

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