On January 27th 1945 the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated; years later that date was selected as the internationally recognized Holocaust Memorial Day. It serves as an annual warning of what can happen when a single group is persecuted because of their race, religion, sexuality or nationality. It is a clarion call against the persecution of people because they are different.
For the Jewish community the memory of the Holocaust remains raw and painful. But it is also a call to action and our rallying cry ever since has been “Never Again”. The introduction of a travel ban, excluding people on the basis of religion or country of origin, stands in stark contrast to our commitment to ensure that history never repeats itself. And for this Executive Order against Muslims to be introduced on January 27th is a call to action we cannot ignore.
We Jews have unfortunately seen first hand where this kind of behavior can lead and we know that never again was not only about the persecution of Jews, it was about the persecution of all people,
Just over 70 years ago if countries hadn’t closed their borders to our Jewish brothers and sisters, how many people might have been saved? Less than a century ago we were subject to a travel ban and borders were closed to Jewish refugees. Many of us here today are the lucky ones whose ancestors found a way out while other family members were unable to escape the Nazi persecution and death.
Today as our Muslim brothers and sisters are on the receiving end of bans and exclusions, we must ask ourselves how will we respond?
In our Torah we often quote the verse from the Holiness Code in Vayikra (Leviticus): “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). It is easy to focus on loving our neighbor because our neighbor is likely to be someone who is similar to us. We rarely focus on the fact that just a few verses later we read: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (19:33-34).
We are not just obliged to love our neighbor, but we are also called on to love the stranger, the person who is different from us. Today we are called to make good on this commandment. We have an imperative to demonstrate this love for the stranger as we challenge and oppose this harmful legislation.
On a personal level I looked at my Green Card and thought about what it represented. When I received it I was told it was a guarantee of my permanent residency of these United States, and that apart from voting and jury duty I would be treated as a citizen in all other regards. It is the card that allows my family to live together. I cannot even begin to imagine how those Green Card holders from the seven excluded countries must have felt over the weekend when they discovered that they might be unable to return to the place they call home, and that they might be forbidden from reuniting with their partners and children.
Legislation that excludes a group based on their religion is clearly in contravention of our obligation to love the stranger. We were slaves in the Land of Egypt and we know what it is like to suffer oppression and persecution. And when we see it happening to another group we cannot be silent. As individuals and as a community we must choose how we want to respond.
I am proud of the leadership that the Reform movement has shown in tackling this issue head on. You can visit the Religious Action Center’s website to send a letter to President Trump opposing this Executive Order and the travel ban. I am grateful to the many Rabbis and religious leaders who were at the forefront of the protests at the airports this past weekend. And I am heartened to see the numbers of people across this great nation who have refused to accept this new policy.