Immigration : A Jewish Spiritual Perspective

We Jews are a nation of immigrants. Abraham and Sarah were immigrants. Jacob and his descendants were immigrants. We entered the Land of Israel under Joshua’s leadership as immigrants. For millennia, we Jews were the world’s first global people. Dehumanized and humiliated, expelled and dispossessed, we ceaselessly and desperately knocked on dozens of national doors, begging to be let in. We entered the walls of these countries, sometimes legally, and sometime clandestinely and illegally. That’s our factual history. That’s our story, and that’s who we are.

This exilic mode of existence formed our national conscience, and sensitized us (well, at least some of us) to universal suffering. Even today, every Jewish-Israeli, like me for example, is either an immigrant, or a descendant of immigrants. As Jewish-Americans, we are also all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. The Torah commands us to existentially identify with newcomers, to “know the soul of the immigrant” – as the Torah puts it.

All this does not mean that as Jews we should all support illegal immigration to America. Not at all. But it does mean, that we should have a heart for them. That we, especially in our community, as recent immigrants who came to America from a politically barbaric region only a handful of decades ago, five minutes ago in historical time, that we of all people should feel for immigrants on a basic and foundational emotive human level, that we should have compassion and empathy for them the same way Abraham had compassion and concern for strangers, including the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Speaking of immigrants and immigration, I leave you today with the words of Ronald Reagan, a great American, and a great Republican president. As befitting a great Republican president, Reagan was a unifier and a healer of the nation, rather than a divider of the nation and a destroyer of its inner cohesion and moral fabric. In his last speech as president, Reagan chose to celebrate immigrants to America of all things. Immigrants as the very life-blood of our country. Reagan was president during the Cold War. And by the way, he never suggested that communist immigrants to America should go back to Eastern Europe. Here are Reagan’s words:

“You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk, or Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American.
This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country, and every corner of the world. And by doing so, we continuously renew and enrich our nation.
While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.

I tell [you all] this.. to remind you of the magical, intoxicating power of America. Those who become American citizens love this country even more. And that’s why the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door. It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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