NOLA Jewish community issues statement on travel executive order

On Feb. 1, representatives of most New Orleans area synagogues and organizations held a special meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and released a statement on the recent executive order on refugees, immigrants and travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations.

Michael Weil, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, said in a community email that the statement “reflects the view on this issue from the Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative denominations, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and other national Jewish organizations” and will be shared with their Congressional representatives.

“Let us reach out together to our neighbors and friends at mosques, churches and community centers,” Weil said. “Let them know, especially those who are new to our country, that we are steadfast in the ethics of our tradition and our enduring belief in the American Dream.”

A “yet to be determined” community action will follow.

The statement reads:

“Do not ill-treat a stranger or oppress her, for you were strangers in Egypt. Do not oppress a stranger; you know how it feels to be a stranger, because you were strangers in Egypt.” — Exodus

More than any other commandment in the Torah, our tradition stresses care for, and sensitivity towards, the stranger. The message is straightforward, yet profound — just as we suffered as outsiders, we must now be vigilant in recognizing and providing for the stranger in our own midst. This belief is the core of both our faith and cultural memory.

Beyond the biblical narrative, Jews have experienced innumerable episodes of expulsion, migration and oppression over thousands of years. Expulsion is a common refrain in our foundational texts, and has been tragically and repeatedly reinforced from Egypt to Spain, from Germany and Poland to Russia, from Yemen to Syria. Jews have had to learn and re-learn what it means to be a refugee fleeing religious persecution.

In our long history of living amongst the nations, the American Jewish experience stands out. Our ancestors who made their way to the United States from North Africa, Asia and Europe in years past in search of a better life. They wanted a chance to live the American dream, in a place referred to by many European Jews as Der Goldene Medine — “The Golden Land.” The great American dream that brought our families here is the same idea on which the United States was founded — the grand belief that freedom from religious persecution and oppression can provide all people who come here with the opportunity to seek a better life.

It is with these values and experiences in mind and heart that we critically view the new administration’s recent Executive Order on immigration. Without a doubt, the safety and security of our nation and its inhabitants are of critical importance. However, the substance and the language of the Executive Order and its surrounding rhetoric clearly serve to single out Muslims and the Islamic faith, as well as particular nationalities.

Bracketing the question of whether this will ultimately make Americans more or less safe, we as the Jewish Community Relations Council, representing the Jewish community of Greater New Orleans, strenuously reject the order. Our faith, tradition, and historical experiences compel us to do. The immigrants and refugees to whom the order denies entry are just like our own family members who once sought entry and acceptance into America to seek a better life. And one cannot think of any greater example of the biblical “stranger” than an individual or family of refugees who must leave everything in his or her native land in search of liberty, safety and better fortune in a foreign one.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New Orleans stands in solidarity with our Muslim-American neighbors and visitors, and with those immigrants and refugees currently seeking entry into the United States. We call on all Jews to reject Islamophobia and ethno-nationalism in our community and on the national level. We must remember that we too were once strangers in a strange land, and strive constantly to protect and advocate for those in the same situation today.