The post below is from Ari Lev Fornari, a sponsor with a program that SURJ launched last spring with our friends at Innovation Law Lab to connect asylum-seekers with sponsors, and that continues to be a collaboration among SURJ, ILL, Freedom for Immigrants, and many others…
About a month ago, a family of seven traveled through the night from Laredo, Texas, to our home in Philadelphia. This concluded a nearly three-year journey from El Salvador, through Mexico, in search of safety. Just a month previously, my family and I had volunteered as sponsors for the asylum-seekers who were traveling a grueling 3,000 miles from their home country to seek safety in ours.
The family is now adjusting to life in Philadelphia — enrolling in school, getting much-needed medical care, and navigating the snow and ice. We’ve been so deeply blessed by the opportunity to welcome this family into our own. They exude kindness and calm, and have already become beloved community members.
As I listened to President Trump’s “State of the Union” address Tuesday night, all I could think of was this beautiful family.
Nothing about the address matched with my own reality. The unapologetic xenophobia pouring from the podium, the references to murder and other violence by immigrants, the efforts to divide Jews from immigrants — none of it matched with my experience of my Jewish family and this new immigrant family. And none of it matches with my understanding of Jewish history. When we first got the call to sponsor this family, a group of community members gathered on a moment’s notice. And it was not lost on any of us that generous people had responded generations earlier to harbor our own families in Europe. They risked their lives so that we could survive.
We will not be silent and allow Trump to dishonor the Nazi Holocaust to advance a cruel anti-immigrant agenda. In the words of one of my teachers, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, “Let’s remember that even though the forces of fascism in Europe were the ones to murder millions of Jews, it was the closed borders of the U.S. that gave Jews little hope of escaping Europe. Had the United States (and others around the world) lifted the immigration quotas set in 1924, who knows how many millions would have been able to escape the furnace of Europe.”
My family — including members of the synagogue, Kol-Tzedek, where I serve as rabbi — was moved to sponsor asylum-seekers because of our Jewish identity, not despite it. The violent massacre of Jews at the Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation was precisely because of that congregation’s historic support for refugees, asylum-seekers, and immigrants. The man who walked into that sacred space intending to commit unspeakable violence also sought to break that bond and divide Jews from immigrants.
My family and my broader community will not allow President Trump to use us as an excuse for his foreign or domestic policy. We will not be used as a tool of division from our Black neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, or our immigrant neighbors. My family and my community are choosing love over hate, courage over fear, openness over exclusion, hope over despair, action over complacency.
President Trump wants to build a wall to keep immigrants out of this country, but we’re choosing to offer four walls and a roof over their heads. We’re opening our home, we’re opening our hearts, and we’re embracing a different way of being human than what the president offered Tuesday night. I hope and pray that others will join us. In the words of Hillel, our elder, “If not now, when? And if not us, who?”