One Minute Torah – Metzora 5779

Two ICE offices approached Juan Francisco at the door to his home in Daly City. They were looking for someone who had previously lived at […]

Two ICE offices approached Juan Francisco at the door to his home in Daly City. They were looking for someone who had previously lived at that address. When they couldn’t find the person they were looking for, they took Juan instead, in what they call “collateral arrest.” They did not have an arrest warrant for Juan, they weren’t particularly looking for him and he had not committed any crimes. But, Juan, who has been living in this country for 24 years, is the father of two US citizens, and supports his wife and their two children through a business installing garage doors, does not have those life-granting papers allowing him to be here.

By the misfortune of having moved into an apartment that had previously been occupied by someone on ICE’s criminal list, Juan was taken into custody.  He was held in detention for months without a court date. Because immigration violations are covered neither by civil nor criminal codes, but are their own, poorly defined category of law, immigrants have minimal rights of due process. Juan’s case is not at all unusual. In fact, Juan is one of the lucky few. His daughter, Melissa, a 6th grade student at a local public school, with help from Faith in Action, rallied her entire school community on Juan’s behalf. Finally, after many months incarcerated, Juan’s daughter obtained his release while he awaits his deportation hearing.

Two leaders from Faith in Action, Sara Miles and Adriana Gutzman, came to CBJ a couple weeks ago to talk with a few of our members about how we might help families like Juan’s. They explained that Melissa could not have rescued her father without the support of a team of people behind her. Would a the handful of us  like to form a team to support another family like theirs?

“Oh!” I said, excited by the idea, “You mean we could adopt a family?”

“No,” Sara said, with gentle firmness, “You can support a family. Not adopt.”  Immediately, I realized my mistake. What a patronizing assumption I had made, imagining any immigrant family would need me to take care of them.  

I asked Sara and Adriana to explain what might be involved in supporting a family. As they talked, I felt a little overwhelmed.

“Melissa was incredible savvy,” I said. “What if we are working with a family that is less savvy than she is? We don’t know what to do.  Who will guide us?”

Sara looked at me pointedly. “Any family that has figured out how to get here from Guatemala is plenty savvy,” she said.

“Right,” I thought. “Of course they are.”

As we head into Passover, Moses’ command to the Israelites is repeating itself in my mind.

וְכָכָה֮ תֹּאכְל֣וּ אֹתוֹ֒ מָתְנֵיכֶ֣ם חֲגֻרִ֔ים נַֽעֲלֵיכֶם֙ בְּרַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וּמַקֶּלְכֶ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֑ם וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ בְּחִפָּז֔וֹן פֶּ֥סַח ה֖וּא לַיהוָֽה׃

This is how you shall eat (the Paschal lamb), your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, your staff in your hand. You will eat it quickly, for it is Passover for Ado-nai.  (Exodus 12:10)

For generations, our people have been rehearsing the drama of the refugee. But for most of our generation, it’s just a story — a cute children’s tale, often told with a display of red-colored water and rubber frogs. Do we know what it is to really eat with our loins girded? To fear the knock at the door? To hide in the forests, or the desert canyons? To bribe and beg your way across a continent, dodging violence, starvation, and arrest, without any resources but your own innate savvy?

I feel a moral obligation to help those less fortunate than I. I want to adopt a family. But the folks at Faith in Action have made it clear, that’s not what either side needs, and I am tabling that impulse. If I instead step forward to support a family, I know that what I learn from their savvy will repay my efforts in spades.

Email me if you’d like to join this effort: rabbiilana@gmail.com