We are one with the stranger among us

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By Sunday, May 21 Letters  6 Comments

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


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6 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    The prophet Isaiah clearly is stating the his House of Prayer shall be for the who “bind themselves to the Lord to serve him” (Isaiah 56:6). Those are the people of whom: “their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”.
    This was not an open acceptance of all peoples, strictly those who embrace the Jewish tradition.

    Have you forgotten the prophet Nehemiah? Oh yeah, he was the leader appointed to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. When the enemies were fended off, and the WALL completed, there were lots drawn to see who could live there.
    Sounds a little like immigration law.
    As I commented on the other “signs” article:
    This Sovereign nation has laws in place to protect its citizens. There are legal ways to enter and stay in this country, which many have undertaken at great financial and time expense. Undermining the law not only threatens our sovereignty, it also tells the law abiding that there is no need to submit to the law if it causes you too much inconvenience.

    If the citizens of this nation wish to change the law, we have democratic ways to do so. But as of now, there are many in our country who have violated our immigration law and are here illegally.

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    Out of curiosity how many members of congress have proposed new laws making it easier, cheaper and less bureaucratic to become legal citizens. A friend of mine is going through that tedious process right now and it has cost him a lot of time, paperwork, legal help and money. Richie Neal has been in office for four decades and has never made any proposals for such legislation, instead it is about curbing the laws for those who choose not to follow the laws that have been on the books for years. We forget that our grandparents needed sponsors, a job and housing before they were allowed in the US. The laws were there for many reasons, deceases, criminal records, etc.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Exactly, Patrick. Good points!

  3. Steve Farina says:

    Rabbi,
    I have given your closing question some thought:
    “What is the next action that we should be taking to support the most vulnerable among us?”

    Perhaps you could start by addressing the growing homelessness problem in Great Barrington. There are people sleeping on the benches in town, in doorways, in alleys, and in the woods. Perhaps you could open your building in the evenings and provide shelter for these ‘most vulnerable among us’. There are also countless numbers who are couch hopping to keep a roof over head. Almost all of these are US citizens who have been right here in your backyard their entire lives. Some are not, also.
    Perhaps you could help address the opioid problem we face in this area. Maybe open a methadone clinic so we don’t have to transport people to Springfield and back every day, taxing the already beleaguered public health system.
    Maybe you can help with the housing crunch many are experiencing trying to find affordable housing. Perhaps some of your congregants would open their homes to allow some less fortunate to live with them (either free of charge or for a reasonable rent) – including the elderly which I have recently been informed has a growing affordable housing population issue.
    There are many needs right here in this community already. I only touch on a few.
    On the positive side it is awesome that the food pantry is now in the center of town.
    However, if you have to ask this question, maybe it is time to get out of political discourse and actually help these neighbors God has put in your path for years.

    1. Sharon says:

      Steve,you are so rite on! Do we bring them food, give them shelter? The “McMansions” have plenty of room for the homeless. My family were “foreigners”. They were legal, worked, paid taxes and.got citizenship. 6 of their sons fought in ww2. I think their thought is this: if there are no immigrants, who will clean their houses, work in their restaurants and do their lawn.work.? if they are illegal all the better-‘they don’t have to pay them much. and building low income houses near the sewage treatment or dump ,only shows their true feelings. As for the drug problems in so county, no one wants to admit they exist. They point fingers at Pittsfield instead. Pittsfield has homeless shelters folks.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Hi Sharon,
        I just want to take a quick moment and respond to your question, “do we bring them food, give them shelter?”.
        The short answer is maybe, and a qualified no. While most people who are down and out at the point of homelessnes appreciate the offer of food or coffee (like maybe the person sleeping on the bench), it would be wise NOT to invite that person into your home.
        That said, should you already have a personal relationship with someone who is facing a housing crisis, then use wisdom, discernment, and compassion to determine if opening your home to them is appropriate, or maybe some othere meas of assitance.
        Being relatively new to town (GB), I am unfamiliar with what, if any, options are available through various local organizations. I will begin to research this and take a more active role going forward (though my primary hope and focus is to be able to find affordable housing options for the people in the community who need such).
        Perhaps, if you are part of a church or some other organization you may be able to find ways to reach out and help (such as the 4 or so groups volunteering at the Food Pantry).
        So much for quick…lol…but seriously, in helping to find shelter and solutions I would advise against inviting strangers into your home indiscriminately. (I’m not saying you would do that, I just thought it is important for me to say)

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