[At the culmination of a congregational trip to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, I shared the following story at the office of U.S. Senator Ed Markey in support of legislation calling for immigration reform.]
Our Jewish tradition urges us to welcome and protect the stranger. In Leviticus, the text commands us to love the stranger as ourselves, as we were strangers in the land of Egypt (19:33-34).
As a third generation Holocaust survivor, my family history highlights the importance of providing a safe home for those who are being targeted, those who are living in daily fear for their lives, and for the lives of their loved ones. After losing the rest of their family, my grandfather and his mother found a safe home in South Africa and were able to rebuild a life and prosperous family.
As a White family in South Africa, my family enjoyed a position of power and privilege, one that led to my relatively smooth process towards U.S. citizenship just two and a half years ago. As one of the only White people in the room before my naturalization test, the officer exclaimed loudly upon seeing me, “Oh, this should be an easy one.”
Just a few weeks after starting my job at Temple Israel of Boston as Social Justice Organizer, we were called on a sacred mission. We committed to supporting the resettlement of a refugee family from Syria. I feel honored to have served a lead role in coordinating this resettlement initiative, one that activated 600 Temple Israel and outside community members in acts of justice and compassion.
When the family arrived at the airport the night before the Presidential Inauguration, their relief, hope, and gratitude were palpable. As we attempted to communicate with no shared language, we found that love and trust need no words.
Celebrating the older son’s birthday just a few weeks later, the home was filled with Jewish volunteers from Temple Israel who had developed close relationships with the family, as well as Muslim, Arabic-speaking friends the family had met themselves. Our call to welcome the stranger has resulted in friendships and invaluable opportunities for interfaith relationships and community building.
One of my most memorable moments from this resettlement experience occurred late in the evening at the storage units after a long, tiresome day at work. We had collected extra furniture, clothing, and household items that we wished to donate to other Syrian refugee families in the area. Through a connection the father of our family had made on his own with NuDay Syria, I was greeted at the storage units by Syrian teenagers and adults alike who had come in support of their community members in need. Working together late into the night, we were able to provide other refugee families with these much-needed items.
I believe that immigrants and refugees escaping war, violence, and destruction deserve support, protection, and safety in this beautiful country of ours. Our community activated powerfully in support of a Syrian refugee family, and is continuing to do so, honoring our Jewish faith in pursuit of justice and compassion. Today, we fight for comprehensive immigration reform for the children who fled to the U.S. escaping dangerous communities and are now living in fear of deportation, as the DACA list is readily available to the federal government. Today, we fight for immigration rights for the undocumented activists who are being targeted for deportation by ICE. Today, we fight for immigration reform for families who are being separated by our current administration’s racism and xenophobia.
I advocate for immigration reform for my grandfather, Jack Puterman, who said he would not have survived the camps if not for his mother who gave him courage “when conditions were terrifying.” I advocate for immigration reform for my great grandmother, Bronia Puterman (z”l), who overpowered German soldiers who attempted to separate her from her son.