If your Shabbat practice allows, join Andrew Keene (NFTY President), Governor Quinn, Mayor Emmanuel and thousands of others this Saturday, October 5 at 9am for a rally immigration reform at Union Park.
On this Shabbat, we read a story with which many faiths are familiar: the story of Noah. The iconic dove– graceful, beautiful and brave– has come to symbolize the peace movement. I believe she is a fitting symbol for immigration reform as well.
You know the tale: God brought a flood that destroyed all living things on earth save Noah, his wife, children and the animals on the ark. After the rain had stopped, first Noah sent out a raven who never to returned from his search for dry land. Next Noah sent out the dove. She circled and circled, looking anywhere and everywhere to land. Finding no dry land, she returned to the ark.
How many of us have our own families stories about relatives– would-be immigrants to America– seeking a safe refuge from floods of persecution, famine, poverty or violence? Some of them, like the dove, circled and circled, unable to find a way to the dry ground of this safe new home. Within the Jewish collective memory, unfortunately, we too share those stories. You may have heard of the German transatlantic liner St. Louis that set sail on May 13, 1939 from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. The US Holocaust Museum explains on their website that on the voyage were 938 passengers, [only] one of whom was not a refugee. Almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich.
The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for US visas, and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States. But by the time the St. Louis sailed, there were signs that political conditions in Cuba might keep the passengers from landing there. The US State Department in Washington, the US consulate in Havana, some Jewish organizations, and refugee agencies were all aware of the situation. The passengers themselves were not informed; most were compelled to return to Europe.
I need not tell you of their fate.
And, yet, just like the dove in the story of Noah, we also share stories of amazing perseverance. The dove set sail once again, determined to find dry land– a safe place to dwell. After circling again and again, she found a fertile patch of land– a place to begin again.
When each one of us digs deep into our own family stories of immigration to this country, we, too, find stories of bravery and grace, tenacity and support. Once we made our way into the fertile land of the United States of America, we have sought to strengthen this country that we love…
because this is the truth that each of us here knows:
IMMIGRANTS STRENGTHEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
On this Shabbat when our Torah tells us of a graceful and brave bird that sought to begin a better life on fertile land, let us pledge that our great country, the United States of America, will be that fertile land for all the graceful and brave immigrants among us.
Let us commit ourselves to making this aspiration a reality so that the more than 11 million aspiring Americans who bless this country will become Americans soon, and with a clear path, because our government officials– who are accountable to us– will pass immigration reform this year.
And may each of us, inspired by the bravery and grace of the dove, find the courage and tenacity needed to support each other on the difficult and exciting road ahead.
I look forward to working with you as we continue to work together to pass immigration reform in our beloved country.
Rabbi Shoshanah Conover is Associate Rabbi at Temple Sholom of Chicago and recent recipient of the Hartman Fellowship.