To the Editor:
I so appreciated Ann St. Clair’s reflection, “Signs of the Times,” published last Friday. She is right that the rhetoric around and treatment of immigrants has driven many to consider our own family narratives, as well as our approach to others in our communities. We are a nation of immigrants, and as the Jewish tradition teaches, that means we know the experience of the stranger. Our otherness is imbedded in our DNA.
From time to time, congregants tell me about having participated in 23andme.com, a service that gives participants a snapshot of their ancestry. I have not yet done it myself, but I will admit curiosity. I always enjoy hearing not only what congregants discover when they participate in this program, but why they chose to do it in the first place. Often, they are searching for confirmation of nagging suspicions and family lore. No matter what the test tells, I have come to understand 23andme.com as a tool for meaning making. The service not only illuminates our ancestry, but through it we connect back to our ancestors, which for many carries personal, spiritual significance. The times we are living in are calling to us, inviting us to remember our roots, and to find compassion in the kinship of shared immigrant narratives.
St. Clair also reported that when the sign went up at Trinity Church, the Reverend Tuck received questions about it and no negative comments to date. How great is that? In the Jewish community, we too have created a banner. It now hangs in all of the synagogues in Berkshire County, and was sponsored by all of the Jewish institutions in our community. I am proud that we came together, to voice our support of the refugee and the immigrant. On our banner, we chose to say that we welcome all, channeling the prophet Isaiah’s teaching, “For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:7). The response, too, in my own congregation, has been only positive. I have received some questions about our banner, as well, and those asking are coming from a place of genuine curiosity.
St. Clair wrote, “Trinity Church, Lenox is contributing visually to what we are thinking about and wrestling with. Its signs are becoming part of the conversation, and like our individual family histories, it will become part of the on-going story.” I completely agree. In the Talmud there is a debate about which is greater — study or action? As the ancient rabbis debate the finer points, the winning voice says that study is greater, because it always leads to action. As our communities take part in the conversation around immigration, as we study our own family origin stories, and as we see how the national conversation unfolds, all of this begs a greater question: What is the next action that we should be taking to support the most vulnerable among us?
Rabbi Neil Hirsch
Hevreh of Southern Berkshire
Great Barrington, Massachusetts