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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Immigrants and Refugees

As Jews we know the challenges of being immigrants and refugees. Indeed the entire American Jewish community is made up of descendants of refugees and immigrants. 

Many of you know that I am the daughter of German-Jewish refugees. Because my father was sponsored by a distant relative in Brooklyn, he was able to leave Germany in 1940.  His parents were not as fortunate. In spite of my father’s and uncle’s efforts to get them out, my grandparents were murdered in Poland in 1942.

My story is only one of so many. Whether or not we come from families affected by arbitrary and heartless laws enacted over eighty years ago or last month, we have an imperative to speak out.  The Torah calls on us to welcome the stranger no fewer than thirty-six times. Furthermore, Leviticus 19:34 states, “The strangers who reside with you shall be to you your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

The Reconstructionist Movement has taken a strong stand against the refugee and travel ban President Trump issued. The Minnesota Rabbinical Association, of which I am a part, wrote its own statement denouncing the executive order on immigration and refugees. I have added my name to a national letter signed by over a thousand rabbis in support of refugees put out by HIAS, a Jewish organization whose mission is to assist all refugees. The letter includes the exhortation, “We appeal to our elected officials to ensure that the refugee program be maintained and strengthened for refugees of all ethnic and religious backgrounds — not halted, paused, or restricted.” It is our responsibility to let Congress know that we are standing up for immigrants and refugees in this country.

In these challenging times, we can turn to our Judaism as a compass to guide us.  Our Jewish values and our connection to our Reconstructionist community keep us grounded and give us to courage to know what we must stand up for.  We must work together so that those who seek shelter in our country won’t be turned away ---- as my grandparents Arthur and Frida Stiefel were seventy-five years ago.

Rabbi Sharon Stiefel