Guest blog post by NCJW’s Senior Legislative Associate Faith Fried (pictured below).
Passover just ended. During the holiday, we gathered with friends and family around the Seder table to partake in a tradition that stretches back thousands of years. It’s an important holiday in the Jewish calendar, one that grounds us in the story of our own liberation, and reminds us that we are still engaged in the struggle of liberation for others.
At the beginning of the Passover Seder, we read, “To all who are hungry, come and eat.” There’s an important lesson that comes from taking these words literally – when our homes are full of food and warmth, we should invite others to join the bounty. But there’s also value in taking a step beyond the literal. To me these words mean — to all who hunger for companionship, for freedom, for acceptance, for safety, for a fair shot, for community, for better lives — come and join our table. Join our communities, our families, our country. Put down roots and satisfy your hunger.
Like almost every Jewish person in the United States, I am part of the tapestry of immigration. My ancestors fled religious persecution and forced conscription at the turn of the 20th century to live in a country where they could aspire to be more than what they were. My great grandparents, and great-great grandparents, came from Russia, Ukraine, and Hungary, and settled in Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Some were met by family, some by organizations like HIAS, and some began their lives here alone. It wasn’t easy to be an immigrant then, nor Jewish, but in the bustling communities in which they settled there was at least a prevailing understanding that everyone was here to contribute. To enrich the community and in turn, be enriched by it.
Today things are, shall we say, different. Now is not a good time to be an immigrant — documented or otherwise — in the United States. After campaigning for months on an anti-immigrant platform with white supremacist overtones, President Trump has moved quickly from words to action. Executive orders addressing the US-Mexico border and interior enforcement issued in January, and their corresponding implementation memos, have completely altered the immigration landscape. Everyone is a priority to detain and deport. No place is sacred from raids — not even sacred spaces like houses of worship. Cities and towns that choose to separate the work of law enforcement from immigration enforcement are being threatened by the Attorney General himself. Kids are afraid to go to school, and afraid to come home to a missing parent. Adults are avoiding work and assigning temporary guardians for their children. Families are going without food assistance or healthcare, aware that to do so is to raise their visibility to a degree that could result in detention. Victims of crime choose not to report or seek safety, because it’s better to be vulnerable in the shadows than to be deported.
Beyond the raids and deportations, Trump and his administration seek to spend billions of dollars on a wall that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The fact that this money should be spent on basically anything else is bad enough. But it also sends a message to everyone in the United States and around the world that we have strayed from our foundational value of tolerance. It announces that we have turned our backs on our own history as a nation of immigrants. It proclaims that individuals and families are criminal, are “illegal,” simply because they are here. Finally, it demonstrates without question that those in power are turning xenophobia into a political reality. The expectation has changed from assuming that immigrants are here to contribute, to assuming that immigrants are here to take something away.
My life is possible because I came from immigrants. And, my life derives meaning from living and working in a diverse city of immigrants. Passover reminds us to ask everyone to join our table, our community, and our country. The Trump administration might be hopelessly lost in the desert when it comes to our American values, but we do not have to follow their wandering. Instead, let us lift up our collective voice and say, to all who are hungry, come and eat.
Faith Fried is a PA born, DC bred political animal, working for social justice at the National Council of Jewish Women.