When I was 21, I was an undergraduate at Yale University, living a typical college life. When my grandfather Irving was 21, he left his Lithuanian home to come to a new country where he didn’t know the language or the culture, and had only one brother to help him. I often wonder what that experience must have been like for him. How much faith and hope he must have had in the United States of America.
For my grandfather, and for so many others like him, his risk was rewarded. He became a successful small businessman in Detroit and built a life for himself, his wife and three children. It’s because of him that I believe we should fix our broken immigration system and create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million. I have directly benefited from American immigration laws, and I don’t believe we should shut the door behind us for those coming afterwards.
Inspired by the Jewish history of immigration, the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable produced an online video, Hineni: Here I Am. The Roundtable, a network of Jewish organizations working to elevate social justice to the center of Jewish life, featured a speech to the Union for Reform Judaism in this video. In this speech, President Obama holds up a mirror to the Jewish community, praising us for our leadership in making America a more just society:
“Here, Jews finally found a place where no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried. Your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, they remember what it was like to be a stranger. And as a result, treated strangers with compassion.”
As the video went viral, its images and words stirred emotions of tens of thousands of viewers. As one person wrote: “This speech gave me chills.” And another: “I got all vaklempted (sorry about the spelling).”
The American Jewish community, united in its support of comprehensive immigration reform, is answering the Hineni call. Some 1,300 rabbis signed a letter to Congress, saying: “We write during this High Holy Day season as Jewish clergy of all streams to add our voices to the call for the swift passage of comprehensive immigration reform.” Jewish leaders from San Francisco to Memphis to South Florida and everywhere in between, are talking to their senators and representatives about immigrant rights.
This Saturday, during a national day of action for immigration reform, hundreds of Jews will participate in events nationwide, including in synagogues. To those who are taking action on immigration reform, thank you.
To those who haven’t yet, join us! The next few months represent a precious and unique opportunity to make our immigration laws more fair and compassionate. Go to hinenipledge.com, watch the video and share it with your networks. As one person wrote: “All I can say about this is “Wow!” Drink it in, folks! It is inspiring. It is challenging. It calls to respond.”
Abby Levine is the director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. She will be honored, along with her parents and sisters, with an Abraham Joshua Heschel award by Jews United for Justice on Oct. 27.