Aryeh and I were at an immigration protest downtown at the Metropolitan Detention Center last August when we met Darwin for the first time. Aryeh is a Talmud professor and a community organizer, and had helped to organize this protest. Our observant and progressive Jewish communities convened for a ceremony to commemorate Tisha B’av and to highlight family separation and the deaths that were occurring on the border and in detention centers.
Darwin’s story was shared as part of the ceremony. We heard about his torture at the hands of Honduran drug cartels who were threatened by his environmental activism, the journey he took northward to save his life, and his experiences as an asylum-seeker here in the U.S. That day we got just a chapter of his story.
A mutual friend introduced us. He was helping Darwin to secure reliable housing after release from the Adelanto Detention Center. We were about to become empty-nesters. Could we take him in? We had a lot of questions. How would we explain kashrut and shabbat? Would he be okay without being able to cook meat in the house? We have one shower in our house, would that be comfortable for him and for us? With my college Spanish and Aryeh’s very basic activist Spanish, would we be able to communicate if there were things that weren’t working for him or for us? What would it feel like for us to have a stranger living in our home?
In October, after the holidays were over, we decided to give it a month’s trial. Darwin arrived with his things, friendly but a bit nervous. He stayed in our son’s room, and we didn’t see much of him. He was out most of the day at appointments and to meet up with activist friends, but he did seem comfortable asking us for things as he needed them. It took a little while to work out a few things, but from the start, it was surprisingly easy to have Darwin in the house with us.
We were all beginning to feel more comfortable with one another. When Darwin and I were in the kitchen at the same time, we might get caught up in animated conversations: national and global politics, family, religion. Occasionally, I walked into the kitchen to find Aryeh in a theological conversation via Google Translate with Darwin, who had attended seminary as part of his activist training. Darwin is enthusiastic and curious, warm and intelligent, fierce in his perspectives but gentle in demeanor.