Torah Portion: Mishpatim
Book of Exodus
February 24, 2017
Steven Mintz, in an article on immigration policy during WWII, writes, “Reflecting a nasty strain of anti-Semitism, Congress in 1939 refused to raise immigration quotas to admit 20,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi oppression. As the wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration remarked at a cocktail party, “20,000 children would all too soon grow up to be 20,000 ugly adults.”
In the same year, 1939, an unidentified senior immigration agent was asked how many Jews would be allowed in Canada after the war. He replied “None is too many”.
On February 19, 1942, two months after the Pearl Harbor bombing, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which allowed regional military commanders to designate “military areas” from which “any or all persons may be excluded”. This authority was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the West Coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona, except for those in government camps. Over 110,000 Japanese Americans, mostly from the West Coast, were interned in camps located in the Midwest. Anyone who were as little as 1/16 Japanese were eligible for internment in what years later would be referred to as “concentration camps.” Sixty-two percent of those interned were United States citizens. Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island were the first to be removed and placed in internment facilities in the Midwest.
On January 27, 2017, US President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order to “temporarily” stop immigration from seven Moslem nations based on the following rationale: “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program.” Among those initially prevented from coming to the US from the listed Moslem countries were US residents and already-vetted visa recipients. A US Federal Appeals court has placed a temporary injunction against the implementation of this order.
We, as Jews, know all too well what it means to be excluded, expelled, and interned. We also know what the Torah taught our ancestors as they left Egypt: “You shall not wrong or oppress an [immigrant or refugee] for you were immigrants and refugees in the land of Egypt.” (Exo. 22:20) Judaism teaches it is the responsibility of every freedom-loving, God-inspired person to reach out to the oppressed, become a home to the homeless, and a voice to the voiceless. For the Torah-loving Jew, it is part of their DNA!
Rabbi Howard Siegel