T’ruah chaver Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie shared this letter after returning from our March 2019 delegation with HIAS to El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico. Since the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” policies at the Mexico border, T’ruah has sent five clergy delegations to bear witness and stand in solidarity with immigrants and asylum seekers.
I just returned from two intense days at the U.S.-Mexico border with T’ruah and HIAS. Our group of 18 Jewish clergy members from all over the United States came to El Paso, Texas, to learn firsthand what’s going on, to bear witness to the inhumane policies our government is enacting and to stand in solidarity with migrants and asylum seekers.
Passover is just a few weeks away, and my family and community seders will be influenced by this fresh and harrowing perspective on the current Exodus on the path to dignity and freedom. One way I’ll be doing this is by sharing T’ruah’s brand-new edition of “Mikdash: A Jewish Guide to the New Sanctuary Movement,” which offers background information on sanctuary and immigration; concrete steps to take; three ready-to-use text studies and much more. Order your copy here.
What I witnessed echoes the Passover story of our people struggling to escape Egypt. Here’s some of what we saw at the border:
- More than 1,000 men waiting for hearings in prison-like conditions at a for-profit immigration detention facility. This center, which collects almost $100,000 of our tax dollars every day has only one part-time physician and one chaplain.
- Families herded en masse through criminal hearings, lacking adequate access to attorneys or translators.
- Shelters on both sides of the border stretched far beyond capacity. At one in El Paso, a 7-year-old girl from El Salvador, just released from four days in the freezing cold holding cells on the border, showed me her chalk drawing of a house, a symbol of her hope for a safe home.
- Asylum seekers, many of them children, lined up for processing in a parking lot under the border bridge, led to makeshift tents surrounded by barbed wire.
- We also met heroes, like Reuben Garcia, founder of Annunciation House, a nonprofit scrambling to find shelter for hundreds of refugees a day, who remind us that even when greed and fear and hatred reign there are those who live by and for the human reality of kindness, compassion and love. We met a rabbi whose congregation is politically divided yet nonetheless feeds hundreds of migrants each week. We saw hope in the eyes of hundreds of Central American children, ready for a better life.
I am proud to be a T’ruah rabbi, and proud that T’ruah’s Mikdash network includes more than 70 synagogues participating in sanctuary, protecting immigrants through political action, accompanying people to court hearings, visiting them at detention centers or even offering a safe place to live. Is your synagogue one of them?
This Passover, I encourage you not just to read the Haggadah, but to read T’ruah’s newly revised and expanded Mikdash guide — purchase beautifully printed copies or download for free. I also invite you to check out this Haggadah created by HIAS, which focuses on contemporary migration issues.
This year, let’s not just repeat the master story of our historical liberation: Let’s be part of the movement that makes history happen now for millions who seek the freedom and dignity each one of us deserves. Please join me and get involved in the important and holy work T’ruah and HIAS are doing in this country and all over the world.
May this holiday of freedom bring the blessings of hope and justice to us all,
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
T’ruah Rabbi & Spiritual Leader of Lab/Shul