“Love the stranger, for you were strangers…” (Deuteronomy 10:19)
At its core, America has always been a refuge and safe haven for the oppressed. Our forebears came to this land seeking the freedom, opportunity, and dignity they were denied elsewhere in the world. The vast majority of us owe our well-being to the willingness of this country to receive us in our time of need. This has been more than a practice or policy; it has been central to the ethos of this nation. Nothing symbolizes this more powerfully than the Statue of Liberty, which stands in New York Harbor and declares to the world these words of the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Only a few times in our history has our country betrayed this ethos by closing our hearts and our doors to those who sought asylum. As Jews, we remember one of them with great pain, because it was our people who were denied entry. Beginning with the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, strict immigration quotas were imposed, which were later used to bar admission to Jews escaping the rise of Nazism in Germany.
One of the most shameful episodes of that time was the story of the St. Louis, a ship that set sail from Hamburg, Germany on May 13, 1939, with 937 passengers, most of whom were Jewish refugees from Germany. When they were forbidden entry into Cuba, desperate diplomatic efforts were made to secure shelter for them in the United States — to no avail. The ship returned to Europe and 254 of its passengers ultimately perished in the Holocaust.
We must not forget our history. We must say, “Never again!” Never again should people be singled out for discrimination based upon their religion, their race, their gender, their ethnicity, or their national origin. Such policies do not make America safer. They make us callous and cruel. They betray our American values. And they sow distrust and disrespect of our nation around the world.
As Americans we should take pride in the fact that our refugee resettlement policy has been generous and compassionate, with significant and appropriate precautionary measures taken to ensure that those who receive shelter in this land do not pose a threat or a danger to our security. This is a responsibility that our government has taken seriously and has administered effectively, and we see no reason why this should change now.
As Jewish communal leaders we do not engage in electoral or partisan politics. We raise our voices in the prophetic spirit of moral conviction, grounded in the belief that we are all children of the one God who gave us life and liberty and in whose image we are all made. In this spirit we call upon our government to rescind the executive order closing our borders to legitimate refugees and asylum seekers. Instead, let us continue our long and generous tradition of extending to others the promise of hope, freedom, and opportunity with which this great nation has blessed all of us.
Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck, Temple Beth-El, Hillsborough
Rabbi Joseph M. Forman, Congregation Or Chadash, Flemington
Rabbi Susan Falk, Congregation Kehilat Shalom, Belle Mead
Rabbi Dan Selsberg, Bridgewater
Rabbi Ron Isaacs, Bridgewater
Rabbi Jack Kramer, Knesset Israel, Bound Brook
Rabbi Jacob Malki, Flemington Jewish Community Center
Rabbi Eli Garfinkle, Temple Beth-El, Somerset
Rabbi John S. Schechter, B’nai Israel, Basking Ridge
Cantor Emily Pincus and the Board of Trustees of Temple Beth-El, Hillsborough