December 15, 2018

Standing up for immigrants represents of our values as Jews and Californians

Few states exemplify the adage that the United States is a nation of immigrants more than California.  There is virtually no ethnicity, religion, race or nationality that isn’t represented here.  Those of us who live in and love California, as my family does, benefit in a multitude of ways from the richness and diversity of California’s immigrant community.  Without these communities, the nature of our lives in California would be significantly different, and worse for it.  This is but one of the reasons that Reform CA and many members of the Reform Jewish community of California support Senate Bill 54, The California Values Act, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

The main benefit of SB 54 is that it balances the precarious situation of California’s immigrant residents with the safety and security needs of all Californians. Ensuring that our state’s immigrant residents feel safe at schools, hospitals and courthouses is a crucial part of this.  For example, SB 54 protects our immigrant residents from being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents if they come forward to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations, if they are stopped for minor traffic infractions and importantly, if they themselves are victims of a crime.  This benefits all members of our community, regardless of immigration status. At the same time, SB 54 empowers local law enforcement to communicate with federal immigration officials in the identification and apprehension of serious and serial felons and violent immigrant criminals.  The bill also allows local law enforcement to work on taskforces with federal authorities.

This legislation represents one of the most important values the Jewish tradition esteems: offering kindness and respect to strangers.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik suggests that whenever the Torah wishes to teach us about compassion for the oppressed, it reminds us Jews of our once-lowly status as strangers in Egypt.  For this reason writes Soloveitchik, the Torah commands us 36 times to treat the stranger kindly.

More than 100 years ago, my great grandparents made the decision to leave Kiev and make the long voyage to the United States, along with my grandfather who was only a toddler at the time. They showed up not speaking a word of English and without a penny in their pockets. This story resonates today because this is the narrative of virtually every Jew and, indeed, virtually everybody in this country.

When I speak to my congregation, comprised of roughly 800 of families, I often preach that in many ways the United States of America has been the land of milk and honey for Jews.  This is because America welcomed Jews from around the world by giving us safe harbor and sheltering us from the persecution our ancestors left behind.  I want to offer the same gift of freedom and opportunity that was bequeathed to my family to the immigrants arriving in California today.  This is why my community will join the California Reform Jewish community in Sacramento on August 22 to advocate that our lawmakers pass SB 54 this legislative session.

Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson serves as senior rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana