We Were All Immigrants

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 22:  Immigrants raise their hands for the oath of allegiance to the United States to become American cit
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 22: Immigrants raise their hands for the oath of allegiance to the United States to become American citizens at Federal Hall on March 22, 2013 in New York City. Seventy-four immigrants from 39 different countries took part in naturalization ceremony held in the historic building where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Today's immigrants come to America for the same reasons my grandfather did. The immigrants haven't changed -- we as a country have. I believe it's a matter of simple justice and fairness: We can't close the door behind us.

My grandfather, Irving, like thousands of others, came to this country at the age of 21 with nothing, speaking no English, and achieved the American dream. He left Lithuania, fleeing intolerance and discrimination, for a better life for his kids, a life he found in Detroit, Mich., where he worked as a furrier, selling coats to keep auto workers warm.

On Monday, as we tell the Exodus story around the seder table, we will repeat the passage, "And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21). And yet, immigrants all across our country experience exploitation and discrimination every day.

We need look no further than North Carolina, where beginning on Pesach eve, young immigrants who qualify for the federal Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be singled out by having to carry driver's licenses with bold pink stripes at the top and the words "No Lawful Status." Dozens of rabbis and Jewish leaders are calling on North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory to reverse this discriminatory policy.

As we pray for a change in North Carolina, I am inspired by how Jewish communities are taking action for immigrant rights, particularly as Passover approaches. The Reform movement, for instance, chose immigration as the inaugural issue of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis. Three hundred rabbis have already signed up to join the campaign. Last month, the Reconstructionist movement passed a resolution pledging to fight for comprehensive immigrant rights for aspiring citizens. And nearly 500 leaders from the National Council of Jewish Women's Washington Institute and the Jewish Council of Public Affairs Plenum held hundreds of meetings with members of Congress on immigration.

Additionally, in Houston, St. Paul, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., hundreds of Jews gathered for community seders on immigrants and worker's rights.

As our elected officials in Congress are drafting language for meaningful legislative reform on these complicated issues this year, I encourage you to seize the opportunity of the Passover seder to discuss your own family's stories of immigration as well as how immigrants work to make America a stronger and better country. T'ruah: the rabbinic call for human rights, is inviting people to place a tomato on their seder plate to symbolize how much of our food comes through the work of agricultural laborers who live like modern day slaves. Brand new Passover Haggadah resources on immigration have just been released by Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice and the Reform Movement's Rabbis Organizing Rabbis.

No matter how we choose to raise the topic of immigration at this year's Passover seder, it is essential that we recognize the identity of the stranger as inextricably tied to our own individual identity as Jews and as Americans -- for we too have been immigrants -- in the United States and other societies.

Abby Levine is the Director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable a network of 26 Jewish organizations working to elevate social justice to the center of Jewish life and to advance an explicitly Jewish framework in the pursuit of social justice.