Sheltering Those at Risk—Rabbi Linda Holtzman and a Jewish Sanctuary Movement

tumblr_ncomckRoJD1sw9peyo8_1280When Philadelphia Rabbi Linda Holtzman hears that a person has risked life and limb to cross a border into the United States, she immediately thinks of her maternal grandmother.

“She came to America early in the 20th century, before World War I,” she begins. “The rest of her siblings, five brothers and sisters, stayed in their small town in Poland. Years later, when they wanted to leave, they no longer could, and all five of them were killed by the Nazis. Today, when I hear someone say that they don’t feel safe in their homeland, I feel an imperative to do something. As a Jew, I hear the word unsafe as a call to action, a mandate to err on the side of welcome.”

Holtzman is part of Philadelphia’s New Sanctuary Movement [NSM], a growing faith-based network of religious leaders and congregations dedicated to changing an immigration system they see as badly broken. And despite recent promises by the Obama administration to go after “felons, not families,” the 120 congregations that presently comprise the NSM nationwide believe that deportations from the U.S. – 368,644 in fiscal 2013, or nearly 1100 a day – must stop.

Toward that end they not only support immigrant rights more generally, but also support efforts to shelter people who are about to be removed — a strategy predicated on the belief that Immigration officials will not enter a sacred space and forcibly take someone from safety. The strategy has led NSM members to provide sanctuary to nine undocumented immigrants, not only in Philadelphia, but also in Chicago, Denver, Portland, Oregon, and Tempe and Tucson, Arizona.