Sassos: ‘We stand with immigrants’

(Indianapolis Star, February 7, 2017)

On Jan. 29, more than 1,000 people came together at the Indianapolis International Airport to express opposition to the president’s ill-conceived and prejudiced Executive Order barring immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations.  We were privileged to be among the speakers at that gathering.  Following are our remarks, first Dennis’ and next, Sandy’s:

Dennis: “I stand with you as an immigrant to this country.

I stand with you as a descendant of Jews who, escaping the Inquisition, came to the New World, found refuge in the Caribbean islands and arrived in this land before the birth of the United States.

I stand here bewildered, distressed and disturbed by the recent Executive Order which would deny asylum to immigrants from Muslim countries and would make this country unwelcome to many of our neighbors and others seeking refuge from persecution, displacement and violence.

It is particularly troubling that the Executive Order coincided with the day devoted to Holocaust Memorial Observance, a reminder of a dark time when the world closed its hearts and doors to millions of Jewish and other victims of genocidal hatred.

On the very Sabbath of the Executive Order, we read in the synagogue the biblical story of Israel’s ancient redemption from bondage.  At that time a despot declared: “I will not let them go!”  In our day, a ruler proclaims, “I will not let them come!”

In the name of sacred memory, in the name of sanity, in the name of justice and compassion, let America affirm the words of the ode to the Statue of Liberty by Emma Lazarus, a young Jewish woman: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp besides the Golden door.”

To our Muslim brothers and sisters and to all who call America home, we say:  We stand with you; we stand by you; we stand among you; and we stand around you.

Let the light of liberty and hope shine and may each one of us reflect its glow.”

Sandy: “I am the grandchild of immigrants who came to this country escaping persecution.  My grandfather arrived alone, as a teenager, with a few coins in his pocket. I never had the good fortune to meet most of his family.  They were trapped by the terror of the Holocaust which targeted them because they were Jews.  There was no escape.  To our shame, America closed its borders to refugees. Six million Jews and five million others were murdered.  We cannot afford historical amnesia. We cannot forget our all too recent past. Today we pledge – we will not go back there again.

I represent Women4Change Indiana, an inclusive, nonpartisan, grassroots organization motivated by a desire to address the escalating rhetoric of hate and the increasing acts of intimidation and violence that demean minorities, immigrants and women.

Let those who believe that this immigration ban will make America safe again, recall the words of Benjamin Franklin:  “Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  To make America safe again, we must make America good again, the land of liberty and justice for all.

Before there were clocks, the ancient rabbis asked how it was possible to tell when morning begins.  One suggested, “It is morning when you can look into the face of a stranger and recognize a neighbor and friend.”

Morning will come again to America, when the light of Lady Liberty’s torch shines brightly in its harbor.

Morning will come again to America, when the voices of welcome and compassion are louder and stronger than the voices of fear and hate.

Morning will come again to America when we can see in the face of the other, the face of our neighbor and friend.

Let us make morning again in America.”

Dennis Sasso is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis; Sandy Sasso is rabbi emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck and director of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Butler University.