RELIGION

More Than 1,000 Rabbis Call On Congress To Welcome Refugees

“In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. In 2015, let us not make the same mistake.”

In a poignant letter to Congress this week, more than 1,000 American rabbis have called on the United States to open its doors to refugees seeking sanctuary.

“Since its founding, the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable,” the letter, published Wednesday, reads.

“Time and time again, those refugees were Jews. Whether they were fleeing pogroms in Tzarist Russia, the horrors of the Holocaust or persecution in Soviet Russia or Iran, our relatives and friends found safety on these shores. We are therefore alarmed to see so many politicians declaring their opposition to welcoming refugees.”

The letter (reproduced in full below) was signed by several of the country's most influential rabbis, including bestselling author Joseph Telushkin; David Ellenson, chancellor emeritus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York; and Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of the Jewish organization IKAR.

It calls for the country’s “elected officials to exercise moral leadership” during this challenging time, and warns the U.S. against making “the same mistake” as one made decades ago.

“In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps. That moment was a stain on the history of our country -- a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion and antisemitism,” the letter said. “In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. In 2015, let us not make the same mistake.”

Since the terror attacks in Paris and Beirut last month, the Republican-led House has been pushing to pass legislation to stanch the flow of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S.

On November 19, the House, including 47 democrats, voted overwhelmingly to enforce even more stringent requirements to an already-lengthy refugee screening process. 

The Senate has yet to vote on the bill

Read the rabbis' letter to Congress here: 

We, Rabbis from across the country, call on our elected officials to exercise moral leadership for the protection of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

 

Since its founding, the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable. Time and time again, those refugees were Jews. Whether they were fleeing pogroms in Tzarist Russia, the horrors of the Holocaust or persecution in Soviet Russia or Iran, our relatives and friends found safety on these shores.

 

We are therefore alarmed to see so many politicians declaring their opposition to welcoming refugees.

 

Last month’s heartbreaking attacks in Paris and Beirut are being cited as reasons to deny entry to people who are themselves victims of terror. And in those comments, we, as Jewish leaders, see one of the darker moments of our history repeating itself.

 

In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps. That moment was a stain on the history of our country – a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion and antisemitism. The Washington Post released public opinion polling from the early 1940’s, showing that the majority of U.S. citizens did not want to welcome Jewish refugees to this country in those years.

 

In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. In 2015, let us not make the same mistake.

 

We therefore urge our elected officials to support refugee resettlement and to oppose any measures that would actually or effectively halt resettlement or prohibit or restrict funding for any groups of refugees.

 

As Rabbis, we take seriously the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger.” We call on our elected officials to uphold the great legacy of a country that welcomes refugees.

 

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