If Jews Don’t Stand Up for Immigrant Children, Who Will?


For as long as I can remember, social action has been at the core of my family’s Jewish identity. Four years ago, I traveled to Israel for the first time. Standing on the edge of Mount Bental overlooking the border with Syria and seeing the smoke from Assad’s bombs, I was struck by how arbitrary lines determine our fate. As Syrian children my age fled for their lives from all they have ever known, I promised myself I would go into refugee and humanitarian work. 

Growing up as a Reform Jew, I was encouraged by my parents and grandparents to shape my religious experience to fit the morals they instilled in me. What mattered most was how I applied religious teachings to the issues I cared about, finding inspiration in the lessons of our past to solve the issues of our present. Most resonant is one quote: “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to be afraid.” Today, we are all on that narrow bridge, and only by reaching across to the stranger in need can we ever journey to the other side where safety exists for all. 

Wanting to make a difference, I became involved with the Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration (WJCI), an organization leading the call for social action on the refugee crisis – exemplifying the Jewish principle of Hineni, or “Here I am.” The Jewish responsibility to refugees stems from the story of Exodus, which at its core is a story of migration and freedom from oppression. The command “love the stranger” appears 36 times in the Hebrew Bible, and centuries of exile, discrimination, and oppression have strengthened the Jewish commitment to welcoming refugees.

In my home, Hineni is the word we live by. When someone is in need, within and beyond the Jewish community, you help them. Kindness is not complicated, even in the face of the world’s most complex challenges.

As the United States experiences highest migrant surge in over two decades , particularly at the southwest border, the Biden Administration is struggling to cope with the rise in unaccompanied migrant children.  Even though President Biden recently announced the administration would raise the refugee cap, the number of asylum seekers has grown. Our community has a moral and ethical obligation to advocate for those seeking safety.

On Sunday, June 6, at 7:30 pm, WJCI will host a countywide Zoom event to explain our advocacy initiatives, and provide critical support for immigrant families with children impacted by the situation at the southern border.

“Border Report: Children in Need” will include advice from five leaders who are championing refugee rights and mobilizing our community: Cantor Rabbi Shoshi Levin Goldberg from Temple Israel Center in White Plains, Andrea Rudnick from Team Brownsville, Eddie Chavez Calderon from Arizona Jews for Justice, Bertha M. Rodriguez from the Community Resource Center in Mamaroneck, and Marti Michael, a Scarsdale resident, representing Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden. 

This program will examine the challenges refugees face amidst the pandemic and dramatic shifts in policy. nstead of sending migrants back to Mexico, the Biden administration allows children to remain in the U.S. in federal custody. Today, children are held in overcrowded detention centers for longer than permitted by U.S. law,and already poor conditions are raising fears about the spread of COVID-19.

The border crisis is bureaucracy at its worst: The delay between when minors are processed at Border Patrol facilities and when they are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services is a failure of capacity building. The lasting damage of prior destructive executive orders on immigration cannot be undone. Policies can change, but the psychological impact on asylum seekers who were returned to Mexico despite having a “credible fear” will be permanent. 

When someone is in need, within and beyond the Jewish community, you help them. Kindness is not complicated.

The Administration’s confusing messaging was unhelpful. Telling migrants “do not come” after reversing many existing immigration policies is a confusing and misleading signal to migrants and the American people. In a region already reeling from the pandemic’s economic effects, especially massive unemployment, hurricanes Iota and Eta decimated crops in Central America during harvest season. With nothing to eat nor sell, many families had no choice except to flee.

We as individuals must step up to respond to the global refugee crisis with compassion, tolerance and responsibility. Beyond holding the Biden Administration accountable for policy changes, the Jewish community must mobilize humanitarian assistance to children and families in need. Judaism’s core values, particularly tzedakah (charity), chesed (loving-kindness), and tikun olam (repairing the world) provide an ethics-based framework for Hineni, Here I am.

Carly Kabot is a sophomore at Georgetown University studying International Politics and Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs. She is a member of the Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration.

Debates over Israel, experiences with anti-Semitism, challenges with mental health– college students have a lot to wrestle with as they build their Jewish identities and find their Jewish community. The View From Campus is a column for college students to tell The Jewish Week, and you, what their worlds are really like. Want to write for us? Send a pitch or draft to Mara Swift at Mswift@70facesmedia.org.