Tree of Life

Saturday morning I attended a board meeting in Pittsburgh, for a public health ministry in Nicaragua.  We chose Pittsburgh because of civil unrest in Nicaragua,  It wasn’t safe for us to travel.   Our board’s focus was on how to provide access to health care, in the midst of growing violence and uncertainty in that country.  We chose Pittsburgh because it was easy to get to and considered safe.

As we met, several miles down the road, a man with an assault rifle entered Tree of Life Synagogue and murdered eleven Jews gathered for worship.   They were the ‘minyans’ mainly older faithful Jews, who gather early, to begin the Saturday morning Shabbat services.   Others, such as busy parents, would  join them as their schedules allowed.  The role of the minyan is to hold the sacred space, for others to join them.

It was a typical Shabbat, until a white male with a history of anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, broke in and murdered eleven…wounded several others, including four police officers.

We all thought Pittsburgh was safe.

The reality is we live in a volatile time.  Barack Obama as the first African-American elected president, led to a dramatic increase in white supremacist organizations.  Donald Trump’s political ascendency and presidency is based in part, on  promoting an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.  A focus on division rather than unity.

This week that division was evident:  Pipe bombs mailed to over 14 leaders within the Democratic Party; two African-Americans murdered at a grocery store, after the assailant was turned away from an African-American Church; eleven Jews murdered while worshiping.  Each act of violence by a white supremacist.  An ideology which finds encouragement (intentional or not), in the freewheeling rhetoric of our highest elected official.

So what is the antidote to hate and division?

The answer is simple yet profound:  Building relationships.  It’s hard to label a person or be indifferent to their plight, once you know their name, their story.

Sunday night, we gathered as a community at Temple B’nai Abraham.  My friend Rabbi Alison Adler, on only several hours of notice, gathered together 300 neighbors, from ten different faith communities, to grieve the atrocity visited upon Tree of Life Synagogue. We gathered too, in response to the nationwide increase in anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant violence.

Passover at the home of Rabbi Alison.

We came together to remember that we belong to one another.  At the Temple I said: ” I am here tonight because Rabbi Alison is my friend.  Her family and my family have been in each other’s home.  We have broken bread, played and prayed together.  And, because we are friends, when someone messes with my friend (anti-Semitism) they are messing with me.  I am responsible to and accountable for the well-being of my friend (s).”

The antidote to hate and violence is found in relationship building.  I challenge myself and you, to get to know those who are different from you. Get to know neighbors of different religions, ethnicities, race, nation of origin, sexual orientation, political perspective, languages.  Listen to one another’s story.  Let the other get to know you.

If you don’t have enough diversity in your life, then get out of your zip code.  Reach out. Find ways to rub elbows.  Break bread, sip wine, play games, talk with… someone who is different than you.

As relationships are built, prejudices based on ignorance, melt away.  The rhetoric of fear and the house of cards it is built upon, collapses.

The poet William Stafford, writes ‘the real enemy, is the one who whispers in your ear, telling you who to hate’.  As citizens, as neighbors, may we be wary of those who sow division.

On Sunday night, Temple B’nai Abraham was a beautiful mosaic of faiths and backgrounds.  We gathered to grieve with and draw strength from the company of one another.

Jesus said, ‘perfect love, casts out fear’.  May it be so.  For all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Company of Dreamers

I spent this week attending a conference on immigration hosted by PICO http://www.piconetwork.org  We gathered as a faith-based group of 110 activists from 13 states working for humane immigration reform.

Several workshops were led by Dreamers.  The Dreamers I met are educated young people,  who move effortlessly between English and Spanish.  Each is deeply committed to the values that we as a nation aspire to: Hard work, family, faith, responsibility to community, respect for others.

I heard their stories.  Listened to their hopes and dreams.  I heard too their fear of being deported, of being separated from family and friends.  Of being forced to return to a land they don’t know.

I was inspired by Jennifer who came to this country at thirteen years of age.  Her parents crossed the border without papers, fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras.  In the eighteen years since, she graduated from college, has a full-time job, pays taxes and is raising two beautiful children who are U.S citizens.

Jennifer is a Dreamer. One of the 800,000 who were brought to the United States by their parents as children.


In 2012 President Obama, as a result of Congress’ inability to act, passed an executive order (DACA) giving them temporary legal status (renewable every two years).  DACA allowed these young people to go to college, get a job, serve in the military.   They became known as ‘dreamers’.

In September 2017 President Trump rescinded that order.  As of March 5th 2018 the Dreamers will lose their protection and be subject to deportation.

In the meantime, the Republican led Congress is playing a cruel game.   Dreamers are used as pawns for their political maneuvering.

In recent days Republicans led by President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have become more hard line.   They’ve tied the fate of the young people to further militarization of the border with Mexico,  further restrictions on immigration and an increased budget for deportation.

The budget includes adding beds in detention facilities.  Their goal is to increase from the current 39,000 beds nationwide to 51, 379 beds by the end of 2018.  Each bed on average is used by ten individuals over the course of the year.  As a person is detained and then deported it frees up the bed for a new detainee.

Do the math and the goal of ICE is to ramp up to 513, 790 deportations per year (double the average in recent years).  Each of these 513, 790 people have a name. Each has a story.  Each has a dream.

One of those names at risk, is my friend Jennifer and her two children.

It’s been said that ‘the one who controls the narrative, has the power‘.  Mr. Trump and his supporters cast immigrants in the most negative way.  He has referred to brown and black immigrants as coming from ‘shithole countries’.  He whips up a crowd saying that ‘Mexicans are rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.

This narrative is racist and fear based.

But I believe in a different narrative. That the United States has always been more than a place on the map.  We are a country of ideas and ideals to which we aspire.  One of those ideals is that we are a nation of immigrants.  That we make room for people of all backgrounds, who aspire to work hard, raise a family and contribute to the overall good. 

A new friendship, Kent and Ruben. Kent was born in the United States. Ruben in Haiti. Both call USA, home.

 

This is the story I believe in. This is the story that makes America truly great.  This is the story I will stand up for.

How about you?  What story do you believe in?  What story will you tell?

Each generation must decide which story we believe in.  Which ideals we will live by.