Talking Tikkun Olam on Poco a Poco Radio

I recently had the pleasure, along with my good friend, community organizer extraordinaire Michael Deheeger (left), to be interviewed by Gonzalo and Maya Escobar for the Poco a Poco Radio program on WLUW 88.7 Chicago. During our wonderfully wide-ranging bilingual conversation, we had the opportunity to explore the Jewish roots of social justice and how it informs our work as activists.

Chicago locals can hear the interview on Sunday, August 12 1:30 pm at 88.7 FM, but anyone anywhere can tune in to the live stream from the WLUW website. And if you can’t catch it live, never fear – the full version of the interview will soon be archived at the site.

Interfaith Prayers for Immigrant Justice

This morning I attended the Immigrant Justice prayer vigil of which I’ve written several times before. It’s been taking place every Friday morning at 7:00 am at a local immigrant detention center to show solidarity with undocumented immigrants as they are in the process of being deported – and to protest the national shame that is our nation’s current immigration policy.

This vigil previously took place at the Broadview detention facility just west of Chicago, but for the past several months undocumented immigrants have been held and processed at the Federal Building on 101 W. Congress Parkway. If you live in or around Chicago, I encourage you to join us.

Though the vigil was originally established by Catholic activists and featured the recitation of the rosary, it has long included attendees of many faiths. Just recently the first Friday of every month has been formally designated to be an interfaith ceremony. Today’s service included Christian, Muslim and Jewish participants – truly an inspiring show of prayerful solidarity.

Some years ago, I wrote and delivered a prayer specifically for this vigil.  JRC member Gonzalo Escobar recently translated it into Spanish and this morning we read a bilingual version of it together. I’ve included it below, along with other powerful prayers that were recited during our ceremony.

Again, if you live in the area, please join us on Friday mornings at 101 W. Congress and help us raise a prayerful voice all the way to Washington…

Continue reading “Interfaith Prayers for Immigrant Justice”

Ruth the Moabite’s Request for Permanent Status Rejected!

Some great Shavuot satire from the Israel Religious Action Center. (h/t Elaine Waxman)

This week we celebrate Shavuot, the holiday on which we read the Book of Ruth. The following is a simulated correspondence between IRAC and the Ministry of Interior if the Biblical Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David and Judaism’s first convert, were to be seeking legal status in Israel today. Chag Sameach!

Mr. Eli Yishai*
Minister of Interior
Kaplan 2

Dear Sir,

Re: Ruth the Moabite – Request to Obtain Permanent Status in Israel

Our client, Ruth the Moabite, is the non-Jewish widow of a Jewish husband, Chilion son of Elimelech. Her husband passed away outside of Israel, in Moab, and is buried there. My client entered Israel legally with her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, who was also widowed while abroad.

The following is a declaration of our client, Ruth the Moabite, regarding her strong link to the Jewish people: “Where you lodge, I shall lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where you die will I die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).

In addition, you may find attached the appeal of Mr. Boaz son of Salmah, an Israeli citizen, who participates in this request for Ruth the Moabite’s permanent status in Israel with his intention to marry my client.

I ask that you grant our client status in Israel by virtue of her prior marriage to a Jewish man.

With respect,

Anat Hoffman, Executive Director
The Israel Religious Action Center
The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism

*Yishai (Jesse)—Biblical name of the father of King David and grandson of Ruth the Moabite.

Anat Hoffman
The Israel Religious Action Center

Dear Ms. Hoffman,

Re: Ruth the Moabite

Your request was received by our offices and has been reviewed by our staff at the Ministry of Interior. The request is rejected due to the absence of essential documents needed for the Ministry’s procedures regarding these matters:

The Moabite woman is required to present a marriage certificate when requesting verification, as the marriage was performed abroad.

A death certificate of the deceased Jew signed by a recognized Chevra Kadisha must be presented.

Your client’s declaration of her link to Judaism is not acceptable as a conversion. In the absence of a conversion certificate, she is registered as a Moabite, not a Jew.

In reference to your client’s declaration: “Where you die will I die, and there will I be buried.” This statement cannot be used to seek approval from the Burial Council.

Your client is attempting any and all potential methods to legitimize her being in Israel, first through her claim that she is a widow to a Jewish husband and now through her new claim that she is the partner of Boaz son of Salmah.

In light of the above, we ask that the Moabite woman exit from Israel within 30 days from the receipt of your initial request in order to arrange her documents from abroad. As such, she can present herself at the Israeli Embassy in Moab to submit all of the required documents that meet the specified criteria for obtaining residency status in Israel.

The position of the Minister is that one must regret the situation in which a respected Jewish citizen of such high status, such as Boaz son of Salmah, requests to marry a non-Jewish woman. Do we lack proper women here in Israel? It is necessary and advisable to take into account the status of the expected children from such a union.

With respect,

Dr. Shuki Amrani
Interior Ministry

Confronting Immigration Policy in Israel and America

The LA Times reports:

Israel moved Sunday to deport the offspring of hundreds of migrant workers, mostly small children who were born in Israel, speak Hebrew and have never seen their parents’ native countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the new policy was intended to stem a flood of illegal immigrants, whose children receive state-funded education and healthcare benefits, and to defend Israel’s Jewish identity.

“On the one hand, this problem is a humanitarian problem,” Netanyahu said during a meeting Sunday of the Cabinet, which had debated the move for nearly a year. “We all feel and understand the hearts of children. But on the other hand, there are Zionist considerations and ensuring the Jewish character of the state of Israel.”

My two cents:

In many ways, this story is reminiscent of the immigration policy debate here in the US. (I encourage you to learn about and support “The Dream Act” which has been considered by Congress in one form or another since 2001 but shamefully, has yet to be signed into law).

Still, there are important differences between the American and the Israeli situations.  Perhaps most critically, although Netanyahu cites concern over illegal immigration, Israel is moving to deport children of immigrants who entered the country legally.

As the article points out, Israel began allowing Chinese, Thai, Filipino and other workers into the country in the 1990’s to replace Palestinians as a source of cheap labor in the wake of the First and Second Intifadas. Today there are 250,000 to 400,000 foreign workers in Israel – but now that they have (quite naturally) begun having families of their own, Israel is growing increasingly concerned over the “demographic makeup” of the Jewish state.

To be sure, every nation has the right/responsibility to regulate its own residency and citizenship laws. Nonetheless, the criteria it uses to maintain these regulations is crucial. And this raises another important difference between the American and Israeli immigration policy debates. Here in America, no one but the most abject racist would openly suggest it is appropriate to cite the religious/ethnic identity of immigrants when considering their children’s legal status.

In this regard, Netanyahu’s comment – framing it as a choice between humanitarianism and Zionism – in profoundly telling. Is this indeed Israel’s ultimate choice? And if so, which will it ultimately choose?

Bravo to Rotem Ilan, chairwoman of an Israeli advocacy group for migrant workers’ families, who is quoted in the article thus:

It’s the deportation of children that threatens Israel’s Jewish character. The obligation to act with kindness and compassion to foreigners is the most frequently repeated commandment in the Torah.

How to Boycott Arizona

If you are looking for ways to translate your outrage over Arizona’s anti-immigrant law into action, here is a list of companies based in Arizona that you should consider boycotting.  Some prominent examples include:

– Arizona Diamondbacks, Location: Phoenix, Arizona

– Best Western International, Inc., Headquarters: Phoenix, Arizona

– Cold Stone Creamery. Headquarters: Scottsdale, Arizona

– Grand Canyon

– P. F. Chang’s China Bistro. Headquarters: Phoenix, Arizona

– PetSmart. Headquarters: Phoenix, Arizona

– Sky Mall, Headquarters: Phoenix, Arizona

– U-Haul. Headquarters: Phoenix, Arizona

– US Airways. Headquarters: Tempe, Arizona

Click here to send a strongly worded message to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Click here to read a letter signed by 90 prominent organizations and individuals in the American Jewish community that was delivered this morning to congressional leaders.  And if you live my home state, I encourage you to check out the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights website for more information and action opportunities.

Rare Jewish Communal Consensus: Arizona Law is Hateful

While the American Jewish conversation on Israel-Palestine is filled with horrid and divisive rhetoric, it is heartening to read that a wide and diverse array of Jewish organizations have spoken out decisvely against the new Arizona anti-immigrant law:

The new law has been criticized by an array of Jewish groups, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center, National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy umbrella group comprised of the synagogue movements, several national groups and scores of local Jewish communities across North America.

Gideon Aronoff, the president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, who supports legislation like Schakowsky’s and that of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said he is working actively with other Jewish organizations to draft a broad statement condemning the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive reform. HIAS also is coordinating with its partners in Arizona and anticipates that rallies, the filing of amicus briefs and other actions may be warranted in the near future.

Passover Supplements Galore!

The Passover 2010 seder supplements are arriving fast and furious. In my last post I shared my JVP supplement – here are a few more you can download and use to spice up your seder meal:

– The “Moral Voices” initiative of Penn Hillel has published “From Chains to Change” – a supplement that connects the lessons of Pesach to the contemporary scourge of human trafficking;

– Workingman’s Circle’s “10 Modern Plagues” demonstrates how our contemporary bounty is diminished by the suffering of others;

– J Street’s supplement asks “Four More Questions” about the prospects for the peace process in the coming year;

Tikkun Magazine’s supplement, thoughtful as ever, is so verbose that it could be its own haggadah…

The new supplement created by American Jewish World Service focuses on disaster relief:  “Dayenu: Supporting the Long Journey from Disaster to Recovery;”

– Jewish Funds for Justice highlights immigration reform with “For We Were Strangers;”

A print-out placemat from Mazon asks a 5th question: “Why On This Night are Millions of People Going Hungry?”

A zissen Pesach – all the best for a sweet and liberating Passover…

Parabéns, Jews of Brazil!

Another sign of the times – this just in from the JTA:

Brazil has set aside a day to honor Jewish immigrants to the country.

Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar signed a measure setting March 18 as Jewish Immigration Day. The date coincides with the re-inauguration date in 2002 of the Brazilian synagogue Kahal Zur Israel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas.

“It was not easy to choose a date among many that represent the influence and the contribution of the Jewish community to the development of our country,” said Marcelo Itagiba, the Jewish congressman who had proposed the bill…

Brazil has some 120,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish population in Latin America after Argentina.

After reading the news I did a quick survey of Brazilian Jewish history and discovered that there have been Jews in Brazil since after the Spanish Inquisition. Moroccan Jews immigrated in the 19th century and, of course, European Jews arrived during and after the Shoah. As this latest news indicates, the Brazilian Jewish community clearly continues to thrive into the 21st century.

If you’d like to celebrate, JDub records has helpfully provided some choice jams from the contemporary Brazilian music scene in honor of this news. Parabéns!

Faith and Faithfulness: A Sermon for Erev Rosh Hashanah

From my sermon this past Rosh Hashanah eve:

How do we discover the true meaning of spiritual commitment in our lives? Perhaps the first step is simply taking a closer look at our lives themselves. Maybe, just maybe, the source of our emunah is much closer than we think.  On Rosh Hashanah we say in our liturgy “Hayom Harat Olam” – on this day the world is born.  Your entire life has been leading up to this moment. Take the time to look back. What has led you here to this place tonight? Who are the people who have helped to guide you on your journey? What are the memories and experiences that you continue to hold sacred? And, finally, how will you transform them into faithful action? How will you commit to them honor them in the coming year and the years after that?

Click below for the entire sermon:

Continue reading “Faith and Faithfulness: A Sermon for Erev Rosh Hashanah”

Postville One Year Later


Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the ICE raid on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, IA – at the time the largest immigration raid in US history.  Here in Chicago, I was honored gather with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and other orgs for an interfaith rally at Federal Plaza. It offered an important opportunity to remember this infamous milestone and to help keep immigration reform/worker justice alive on the national radar.


Our gathering offered prayers, updates and testimonies, after which we marched several blocks to ICE headquarters where each name of the 389 arrested Agriprocessor employees was read aloud (below). It was a powerful moment of bearing witness – a reminder that our advocacy of immigration reform represents a fight for the real individuals, real lives, real families.

IMG_0317After all the names were read, we delivered a letter to Feds that demanded an end to unjust raids, detention and deportations. Following the rally, several members of our delegation traveled to Postville to mark the anniversary with a gathering at St. Bridget’s Church and the Agriprocessors plant. (Click here to donate to help support the residents of this devastated community.)

Though the Obama administration supports reform, there are any number of obstacles that might prevent immigration legislation from making it to a vote in Congress in 2009. Passage of the newly reintroduced DREAM Act would certainly be a great start (it’s currently eight votes short). Click here to offer your support.