I spent the hour before Shabbat gathering with transmitters of multi-faith migrant justice at the Lights for Liberty: Toronto, Canada vigil.
Though I left shortly after my remarks to light candles and welcome Shabbat, it felt necessary to be there in loving affirmation of the strangers caged in camps across the United States and, too, to receive the day of rest G-d has given me.
From every house of bondage to a house befitting all nations, friends.
Text of my remarks:
Home. We all long for it. We all pine for it. A place to live. A place to rest. A place to dream. Safe and free. And yet, looking out from our homes, today we find a world of wilderness.
From Isaiah, who came bearing the message of G-d, we read: “The heavens are my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what kind of house can you build for me?” (66:1).
True, not all of us are faithful, but I do believe each of us in attendance today is fearful. And fed up.
For what could be further from religion, let alone the spirit and essence of our humanity, than a migrant child in McAllen Texas who this week was asked to draw an image of home, who then etched out the shape of their young face, staring at the glimpse of their parent, from behind the cold, exacting bars of concrete?
We gather today because something is terribly wrong. Not merely with our history, but with our reality. Many of us have been watching. The white supremacist violence of Charlottesville. The emboldening and willful promotion of anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-choice figureheads in the U.S. government. And photographs, like the image above taken from migrant detention camps, of children who lay sleepless on the floor, in fear and with infirmity, uncertain of whether they will see their families or a world outside bars ever again.
“There is a stench,” writes Elora Mukherjee, a lawyer who recently visited one of these detention facilities.
But between the smell of rot, the proliferation of physical illness and the morally indifferent disease that led others to erect, fortify and even silently condone this place, a plea.
For home. And hope: Migrant families longing to be reunited and finally, to breathe free.
For what is sanctuary, the place G-d and yes, these families, call us to build, if not the greatest refuge and vessel for the most destitute’s freedom?
I am reminded of the words of Ravi, a U.S. immigrant and human rights activist, who spoke to me last summer, about his work to train clergy to prevent the forced deportations of his society’s vulnerable:
“We train clergy to accompany people, which means listening, taking notes during detention hearings, and to make people feel better.”
And then, something else.
In the clearest possible terms, Ravi said “witnessing is less about talking but taking it to a higher authority, to G-d.” Because watching, talking and even building do not provide verb, sentence or concrete material enough to shelter a life.
What people must use, implores Ravi, is their faith.
What is the place of faith in a world that unreservedly separates immigrant parents from their children?
In which religion is used, ad infinitum, to justify the racial superiority of housed, safe and comfortable whites to the exclusion, incarceration, dehumanization and death of black and brown lives?
The commitment to stop watching. And start acting.
For Canadians, faith would amount to more than watching our U.S. neighbours from the comfort of our homes, to demonstrating a greater sign of our commitment to the immigrant and the stranger than the routine, habitual sighs, that we, by virtue of our nationality, are so thankfully better off.
For, the place of faith in this perilous time is to dwell outside our homes. And with love in our hearts, to extend home in, out, through mighty, timely and kind acts.
A story, a question, a prayer and a hope.
In the forty years my People spent wandering in the desert, they carried the Tabernacle, a place where G-d did loyally dwell. The Malbim, the Rabbi of Wreschen, reminds us that each of us must build a sanctuary for G-d in the recesses of our hearts; that the passage to the sacred and the divine must come through human, fallible, earthly and yet, wholly worthy, us.
How are you prepared to make space for the other?
How are you willing to carve out sanctuary for the stranger in the chambers of your hearts?
This is the moment of our unsettling.
When our subconscious griefs turn to active, vigilant in the world efforts.
When the province of our safety becomes the dwelling place for those with nothing whose lives are in need of everything.
When we in Canadian homes, schools, places of worship and communities shine light on the dark of our hearts, toiling with the parts of ourselves that would have us look away, become anesthetized, made idle by the inhumanity of American detention camps and raids in all their horrors, and instead put our faith into action that makes holy space for the other to dwell.
The Mishnah, a collection of Jewish oral law, teaches that in every Israelite life destroyed, lies the ending of a whole world. A different codex of the same collection, however, extends the circle of damage further by stating: Whoever destroys a human life is considered to have extinguished a whole world.
Why would a Jewish legal text, a text made for and by the most religious of Jews, move from the specific safeguard over Jewish lives to a wider, more universal one?
Because the first breath a human drew on earth came from the lips of G-d.
Because even though we were made separate from G-d, we learned from paradise to slavery to the desert wilderness that we are not ever alone, nor are we supposed to be.
Because, perhaps the People/people who know great suffering are the ones most poised to not only fight it but transform it for good.
Because, in the recesses and chambers of their hearts, our sages saw a window.
To their famished neighbour. To their asylum-seeking enemy. To the dirty. To the forgotten. To the caged.
To each of us here today.
But we must not look.
Like our ancestors, like all the great seekers of justice and wisdom in every society of every time, of every race, background, creed, gender, sexual orientation and age, we must lean on each other and create movement enough to tear down every wall.
For, justice does not delay but it does rise.
We must know by now we are all the hope we have been waiting for.
For the six children who have died in migrant detention.
Most of them rendered nameless, homeless and joyless.
For their sake, may we exit the haven of our familiar homes and build a house for all nations with our shaking hands and courageous hearts.
May we hear their names and heed their prayers.
And may our faith to make a world that is different reverse our indifference.
And may we live in a world built by love and not walls.