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.

7 comments on “Sheltering Those at Risk—Rabbi Linda Holtzman and a Jewish Sanctuary Movement

  1. Amy Stone on

    Thanks for the inspiring blog. Question: I didn’t realize that Mordecai Kaplan was co-founder of Reconstructionism, not the single creator. Who’s his co-founder?

  2. eleanor bader on

    from Wikipedia: Mordecai Menahem Kaplan, was a rabbi, essayist and Jewish educator and the co-founder of Reconstructionist Judaism along with his son-in-law Ira Eisenstein.

  3. Amy Stone on

    Hi, Eleanor,
    Thanks for your reply. I know who Mordecai Kaplan is. My question is: Who co-founded Reconstructionism with him?

  4. Amy Stone on

    Correction, correction – I see that you did say that Kaplan’s son-in-law gets credit as co-founder of Reconstructionism. Thanks.

  5. GetSerious on

    The hearts of these people are in the right place, but they are aiding and abetting lawbreakers nonetheless. The key factor for me is their illegality: we are a nation of laws and these folks are lawbreakers—and their heartbreaking stories do not change that. Moreover, the US is not the cure for every poor person on earth nor are we in the same situation as a country as the era in which Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem. Finally, I suspect that conveniently forgotten is the fact that the maternal grandmother of Rabbi Holtzman (a great and dear childhood friend of mine) was here LEGALLY. I am certain she did not hide in a barrel while crossing the Atlantic and did not shimmy down a tie line when the ship docked to sneak into New York. No–she came in during the light of day, presented herself to an immigration officer at Ellis Island (most likely) and emerged with the RIGHT to be here – and then did not ask for welfare, bilingual education, and/or scholarships for her children, and then generally failed to play the victim role perfected by those her granddaughter helps to shield from the law. While I understand Rabbi Holtzman’s motivation, I cannot applaud her actions as a citizen who takes the obligation to obey the law seriously. The US cannot be the dumping ground for every inhabitant of the globe with a hard luck story.

  6. Tootyfruity on

    I believe that Rabbi Holtzman’s point is that her five aunts and uncles along with their families, all murdered by the Nazis, could have been saved had our country, or any other, made an effort to absorb Jewish refugees. In fact–and I don’t say this as an attack, but to illuminate–if you take your sentence “the U.S. cannot be a dumping ground for every inhabitant of the globe with a hard luck story,” and add some comment denigrating Jews, you’d have a letter to the editor or a government policy paper from the years 1936-48. (Even after the war, nobody wanted Jewish refugees.)

  7. Tootyfruity on

    Europe is facing a greater problem, with a flood of desperate refugees and migrants overwhelming the system. Perhaps we’ve been lucky in the U. S. that ours has been a slower, steady stream over many decades. Our society here has had a chance to adapt slowly to major social change. Maybe after this next Presidential election, if we’re lucky, something substantial can be done.

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