Three decades ago, faith communities across the Southwestern United States, seeing as their moral duty to protect the downtrodden and vulnerable from what they saw as an almost certain death sentence, decided to break the law and harbor illegal immigrants who had arrived from Central America.
Moved by a sense of humanity and an anti-establishment rebellious streak that flows through the blood of many whose cause is social justice, these brave souls, in some cases, forced social change by demanding that the United States take responsibility for the less fortunate drawn to its borders. Today, amid headlines proclaiming ever-increasing intolerance — including here in Maryland — toward children whose only crime is listening to the false promises of smugglers and cheating death in the hope of a better future, Jewish groups in Arizona and New Mexico are heeding the call and doing their part to help the unaccompanied minors who are once again flocking across the southern border.
Some of these good Samaritans are mindful of the failure of the United States to shelter Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, such as the turning back of the MS St. Louis and its 937 German Jewish refugees. And, as you’ll read in this week’s JT, groups such as the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona — like the churches and synagogues of 30 years ago — once again see it as their moral duty to help those suffering during a humanitarian crisis. As one organizer tells reporter Heather Norris in this week’s cover story, given their history of being “strangers in a strange land,” Jews should be at the forefront of the immigrant cause.
He has a point, and regardless of where you stand in the specific case of 57,000 Central Americans now awaiting their fate and what to do with them from an immigration policy point of view — 60 percent of those who took part in the JT’s online poll two weeks ago advocated deporting them quickly — you can’t help but feel that we all bear some responsibility to protect these children’s lives.
This sense of societal and communal responsibility is what is motivating Israeli citizens to send food and clothes to the tens of thousands of soldiers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect civilians on both sides from the actions of terrorists. It is the same sense of responsibility that likely motivated the Israeli army to open a field hospital for Gaza residents caught in the crossfire. And it is the same responsibility whose absence is manifested in the hateful demonstrations that recently set streets in Paris aflame.
Whether migrant child, Arab farmer or Israeli father, each and every human being deserves a life free from fear. That is ultimately the reason why Hamas must be vanquished and the hateful ideology it espouses will end in failure. Make no mistake, just like those who place water bottles in the Arizona desert, Israel now finds itself in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is characterizing as an existential war because of the children.