More on the immigration debates

The New York Daily News has got another strong piece on the immigration bill.

From the piece:

Tancredo is mad. And his rage is truly ecumenical. He is equally angry at the Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. For the Colorado politician, these religious groups, by trying to inject desperately needed compassion and common sense into the immigration debate, are putting national security at risk.

But the fact is that for an effective immigration policy to be possible, the shameless use of national security as an excuse to carry on anti-immigrant agendas must stop.
"Our policies should have compassion for those who come here to escape the crushing indignity of extreme poverty or persecution," Rabbi Daniel Brenner has said. They should also recognize that illegal immigration is a function of supply and demand in the U.S. labor market. And that as such, no law that limits itself to the enforcement of greater border controls will ever solve the problem. McCain is one of the sponsors of the McCain-Kennedy Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005, now before Congress, that is supported by the religious groups that make Tancredo angry.

Divan Cameo

Lisa and I were at a show last night - the Kretakor Theatre of Budapest's rendition of Chekov's The Seagull (3.5 hrs, in Hungarian) and we ran into Pearl Gluck. Pearl, who spends alot of time in Jersey now that she teaches at Rutgers, informs me that my dreams of being a movie star have been realized. I have a cameo in the DVD special features of her film Divan. Now I can move into a run down mansion on Mulholland and drink myself into oblivion.

Wigwam, you are too tense....

Nineteen years ago, inspired by the words of the Western Shoshone tribal chief, I trespassed onto the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and found myself in handcuffs. I was a college student in need of a haircut in the hands of a Nevada police officer with a buzz cut who escorted me to a makeshift stockade topped with barbed wire, then to a prison bus, then to a town jail in Tonopah. Rather than book me, he took off my cuffs, pushed me out to the sidewalk and told me “go back to where you came from.” I wandered over to a local pizza restaurant, and thanking the Blessed Holy One for my freedom, ate one of the worst pies of my life.

read more in today's ol' opinion column of the Jewish Week. I connect a few dots between Mordecai Ben Noah, Jack Abramoff, and a place we call in Hebrew 'Lat Vegat.'



When I got started on Reb Blog, I basically thought of it as a good way to post articles in print media that I published, or got quoted in, or speeches that I gave up for public viewing in an ongoing way. It would be a vanity press-like journal of my work. Now I'm beginning to think differently about what a Blog is for. A few years ago, I got to meet Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism prfoessor who had just written a book called "What are Journalists for?" Yesterday I got to sit at the feet of (and enjoy a lemonade at the Princeton Club with) Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine . Jeff is the brother of Rev. Cindy Jarvis who I worked with on confronting the Messianic 'synagogue' drawing money from the Presbyterian new church development funds. Jeff spoke enthusiastically about how the new blog media is changing the print media - and changing network television. Blogs work, he argues, not by being the top overall blogs - i.e. the article in New York magazine about the top fifty blogs is irrelevant - but by being the top in a particular niche. For example, the top cooking blogs represent a larger and more engaged audience than Emril Legasse. Each niche - media, religion, tv, NASCAR, crochet, lacrosse, whatever will eventually spawn into podcast and video broadcast that will rival whatever the FCC approves or what cable providers want to sell us for $99 a month. They may not replace the big media anytime soon - especially as big media begins to eat them and acquire them - but they may usher in a new, more democratic, way of generating news and commentary on the news. Bloggers in Iraq, Jeff argues, are changing the way we view the war. We can now draw from personal experience, in a 'human' way - not a slick tv product - and we can hear new voices.

Once again, the guide atop this blog, Rabbi Kaplan, was prophetic. He saw the force of democracy as one which would insert itslef into all institutions, particularly religious institutions and cause transformations that would spawn new entities and new 'civilizations'. The more I have recieved emails from other bloggers, and I have learned from reading other bloggers, the more I see the blog world as a democratizing entity.


Video Games, Comic Books and the Holocaust

Last Thursday night I flew up to Toronto and delivered a speech to about 85 teachers at a symposium on 'Popular Culture and the Holocaust.' My address, titled The New Killing Fields: Video Games, Comic Books, and the Holocaust is accesible by clicking here. (too long for the blog!) There were teachers from quite a few Catholic and other Christian schools, Jewish day schools, and public schools. For a vast majority of them this was there first experience with 'historical' games on the X-box. I played Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Prisoner of War, projected on the wall of the conference center.


Jewish Perspectives on Immigration

Jewish Perspectives on Immigration

Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner
Delivered February 1, 2006
New York Immigration Coalition Inter-religious Rally
Battery Park, New York City

Before I say a few brief words regarding Jewish teachings on immigration, I want to say that today I am standing on what is for me and my family sacred ground. It was on this spot that 100 years ago, my late grandfather, Herschel Brenner, then a six year old boy from Częstochowa, Poland began his new life. I often imagine that family of nine, in a small Brooklyn apartment, my great grandfather working a job as a stone cutter in the monument business, learning a new language, becoming Americans.

For Jews in America, any reflection on immigration must include the tale of the S.S. St. Louis a ship of 937 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 that was not welcomed into American or Cuban ports. The boat returned to Germany where most of the passengers were eventually murdered by the Nazis.

A Jewish perspective on immigration policy begins with the biblical command:

"Do not stand idly by while another's blood is being spilled" (Leviticus 19:16)

Today, as war and famine continue to lead strangers to these shores in search of protection and asylum, we must be mindful of the need for a safe haven.

There is a classic Jewish joke on the topic.

It is the beginning of the Nazis rise to power in Germany and a Jew from Vienna, desperate to find a safe place for his young family, gets an appointment at the visa office.

“Where to?” the visa officer asks.

The Jew does not have an answer.

The officer points to the globe that sits on the desk. The Jew spins the globe, meditating on each continent and each country.

“Well, where to?” the officer says.

Finally the Jew replies:

“I hate to bother you, sir, but do you have any other globes?”

But the notion of a safe haven is only one of the teachings on immigration that has strong roots in the Jewish tradition.

The classic Biblical text on how we are to act towards those who come into our land from other lands is cited in the interfaith statement. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 33-34:

33 "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not harass him.
34 You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.

But it is an oversight to read this verse without reading the two verses that follow it

35 "Do not act dishonestly in using measures of length or weight or capacity.
36 Just balances, just weights, a just measure for flour, and a just measure for oil, shall you have: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

Why is a law about strangers followed by a law about honest measurement in the marketplace?

Because in order to create a society which treats the alien as the natives are treated, we must begin by creating a just, transparent, economic system. One which does not cheat immigrants, one that does not create a second class of citizens who must hide in the shadows for fear of imprisonment and deportation.

The biblical laws were very clear – if one lived among you and followed the minimum ethical standards- the Noachide laws- then it was a responsibility to treat that person
with the same love and concern that we treat our other neighbors.

Today we are most concerned with the way in which the proposed legislation, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act, goes about enforcement.

Andrew Grove, a Jewish survivor of Nazi Germany, wrote last week (1/26) in the Wall Street Journal:

The bill contains a provision punishing anyone who "assists, [or] encourages . . . a person who . . . lacks lawful authority to remain in the United States" to remain here….
This could change the nature of our society in a way that I have seen firsthand. As a Jewish child hiding from the Nazis in Hungary, I saw how the persecution of non-Jewish Hungarians who hid their Jewish friends or neighbors cast a wide blanket of fear over everyone. This fear led to mistrust, and mistrust led to hostility, until neighbors turned upon neighbors in order to protect themselves. Is this what we want?

We are a nation that respects the rule of law. But we would be wise to remember the teaching of the 18th century Chasidic Rabbi Simcha Bunam. He asked the question - Why in the verse in Deuteronomy 16:20 does it say: 'Justice, justice shalt thou pursue'? Isn’t it enough to say the word once? It repeats to teach us that we may use only justifiable methods even in the pursuit of justice."

Today we are here to send a message to the Senate and the White House. And in particular I would like to address our President.
Mr. President, in January of 2004, you said:
“Over the generations, we have received energetic, ambitious optimistic people from every part of the world. By tradition and conviction, our country is a welcoming society.”
And last night you emphatically stressed the contribution of immigrants to this nation.
But until the words terrorism and immigration control are detached from one another then we are not creating a welcoming society. In fact, the moral failure of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act lies in the very title of the bill. There should be a moral outcry whenever the ‘terrorism’ and the word ‘immigration’ are used in the same sentence. There is a great irony here - the two men who crashed planes into the Twin Towers came to the U.S. legally, on tourist visas which were extended to student visas. But the roughly eight million women and men who could not afford to come here legally are the ones who face a society of suspicion, and the threat of detention and deportation. These women and men are praying that they will simply be allowed to work and feed their families without being labeled as felons.
Mr. President, senators, direct your heart to theirs, have compassion for their prayers, help us all, as a nation, to act humbly, love kindness, and walk with God.

Daily News Coverage

Check out The New York Daily News - a forceful commentary by Albor Ruiz on the immigration legislation that is headed to the U.S. Senate.

From the piece: "The Senate will discuss the bill this month, and hopefully smarter, cooler heads will prevail and reject it. This is an unbelievably bad piece of legislation that, despite the hype, does nothing to make the country safer or to fix the broken immigration system.
"We have come to a point where we allowed fear and suspicion to overwhelm our judgment of what is moral and what is immoral," said Rabbi Daniel Brenner on Thursday. "Our policies should have compassion for those who come here to escape the crushing indignity of extreme poverty or persecution."
Obviously compassion was not in the minds of those who drafted and sponsored this bill."


Letter from Scotland

I just recieved a letter from a woman who works with the Liberal Jewish community in Edinborough - and she sent me her speech at the World Disarmament Campaign. She deploys the kaddish translation I penned a few years back in a lovely way.

Talk given at the World Disarmament Campaign interfaith occasion 29 Jan 2006, on behalf of ELJC.
This is the first time Judaism has been represented by our community at this annual event. Other faiths represented were Christianity, Baha’i tradition, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam. (The invited Sikhs were unable to attend).
Catherine Lyons
‘Swords into Ploughshares’
This Jewish prophetic image has come to symbolise Christian peace activism. I’ve been mulling over what it signifies in a Jewish context.
Micah and Isaiah’s vision of universal peace and justice for the future sits side by side with, and I believe arises from, their criticisms of social injustice and awareness of political instability in their own time.
We cannot imagine what peace and justice can really mean if we don’t engage our full attention with the world as is it now, and recognise injustice when we see it.
This contrast reminds me of Kaddish, a prayer of mourning in Aramaic, and how Jews use it. Bereaved Jews say Kaddish according to particular ritual procedures, and usually we say Kaddish for a particular person, a close family member.
And yet the prayer itself doesn’t mention death, or even encourage reflection about the person who has died. In the midst of their grief, it enables mourners to affirm to their community the greatness of God, with nothing less than exuberance, and it wills the coming of universal peace.
In the world we live in, lives are cheap; so may disempowered people have been killed in the last year, the collateral damage of territorial disputes and global power struggles, or they have simply failed to stay alive for lack of basic human resources, their extreme poverty the collateral damage of a violent global economy.
They are mourned by their families, such families as remain, sometimes bruised again and again by relentless war and poverty. Here in comfortable Edinburgh, we cannot meaningfully say Kaddish for them. But I am going to read you a translation of Kaddish, by Rabbi Daniel Brenner, together with his introduction to his translation. Rabbi Brenner is director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York and a reconstructionist rabbi.

The translation that I am presenting here is an attempt to put the kaddish into plain English, colloquial, slang, street, to translate it the way it might be spoken. In translating it this way, I hope to capture the desperation and heartbreak, and the hopes for peace and restored order, that I see reflected in its words.
A Kaddish
Make the God-name big.
Big and holy.
Do it in this world,
This creation sprung from consciousness,
And bring some order to this.
Do it fast, soon, in our lives, in the days ahead, in the life of the people we call home.
Everybody join with me: May the name be blessed forever and ever!
Yes, blessed.
Blessed, whispered, sung out, shouted, honored, this holy name.
The name is beyond any song, poem, or comforting words we could ever speak.
Eveybody say: That's the truth!
May a big peace descend from the heavens, a life-giving peace for all of us, for our beloved people,
Let everybody say: May it be true!
Make that peace in the heavens, great peacemaker, great One who brings wholeness to our people.
Everybody pray: May it be true.