By Josh Rosenblum, NFTY-SW Programming Vice-President
For NFTY high school seniors, Spring Kallah is an ending. A time to complete one stage and move on to another. But for 7th and 8th graders around the time of Spring Kallah, NFTY is just getting started. Shortly after Spring Kallah, the NFTY 78 Social Action Weekend comes, bringing with it middle schoolers eager to jump into NFTY culture, hands-on social action, and inspiring stories about social justice. One of these such stories came from a man named Eddie. Born Eduardo, Eddie immigrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of four with his mom when they came to the U.S. seeking asylum from the violence in his town. After a long, and dangerous journey through the desert with no possessions beside items they could carry, Eddie and his mom successfully made it to the southern border of the States and began to set down roots in a new country. Many years later, Eddie now works for the non-profit AZ Jews for Justice and fights for the rights of immigrants coming to the U.S. With the story of Jews exodus from Egypt having just been told at Passover seders around the world, Eddie’s story couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Though there are some obvious analogies between the stories of the Jews fleeing Egypt for IsraelI and the stories of people from all around the globe fleeing their countries for safety in the United States, the two narratives are in fact even more deeply connected than they may first appear.
There are many parallels to be drawn between the story of Exodus and the story of immigrants to the United States. One of the clearest examples is simply leaving home in search of a better life. Though the Jews were slaves in Egypt, Egypt was their home and leaving home is never an easy decision. But at some point, when conditions get bad enough, the decision seems to make itself. Just as the Jews left Egypt in search of a better life, immigrants coming to America are leaving their homes in search of their Promised Land, full of freedom and hope.
The parallels don’t end there though. When the Jews finally reached the land of Israel (at the time Canaan), it was occupied by Canaanites who did not exactly accept the Jews with open arms. When people fleeing their homeland arrive in the United States after long, dangerous voyages, far too often they are not met with open arms but instead with hostility and aggression. They are not embraced but rather pushed away.
This has always confused me to some extent; why would you push people away when they are in dire need of help? During his talk, Eddy provided a reason for this: fear, specifically fear of the unknown. He talked about how natural human instinct tells us to expect the worst of a situation, or in this case, of a person. This instinct actually makes fantastic sense in the wild, but in an era where you’re more likely to die from pain killers than animal predators, it may not be as well purposed. But nonetheless, it prevails. For this reason, even upon arrival in the Promised Land, immigrants must fight for their right to stay.
The Exodus story and the story of immigrants coming to the United States are inextricably linked. The decision to flee home for the Promised Land is never an easy one and once the decision is made, the journey is even more difficult. Even once the journey is complete, the challenge then shifts to becoming accepted and appreciated in a new community and establishing new roots in unfamiliar soil. Though the Exodus story as it appears in the Torah happened thousands of years ago, it is still continuing today. So when Passover comes around again next year, don’t just think of the struggles of the Israelites; think of the struggles of immigrants all around the world, all searching for their Promised Land.
For more information about the Reform movement’s stance on immigration, visit the Religious Action Center webpage.