Diverse group of rabbis reinforces obligation to treat all strangers humanely during an educational program at Temple Beth El.

Feature photo by Jeff Aisen

Many Americans are saddened and angered by the videos, photos and firsthand accounts of immigrant families separated at the southern U.S. border and often sent to over-crowded, inadequate detention facilities.

As the flow of refugees fleeing violence and poverty increases, U.S. government officials, human rights activists, immigration advocates and American citizens dispute how these would-be immigrants should be treated.

A group of 17 local rabbis from five streams of Judaism, as well as representatives from several Jewish nonprofit agencies, presented a unified view of the obligation of Jews to welcome strangers. They spoke at an educational program titled “Strangers in our Midst — Texts for Jewish learning about the crisis on our southern border” presented Aug. 1 by the Anti-Defamation League Michigan Region and the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township.

The program idea came from a recent event hosted by U.S. Congressman Andy Levin that reported on his trip to the border with religious leaders.

Rabbi Josh Whinston of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor spoke as a “personal witness” who has visited immigrant detention centers and helped a mother “whose children were torn from her.”

“She lived in a town controlled by a gang and knew when her son reached a certain age he would face the choice of joining the gang or being killed,” Whinston said. Nonetheless, she told him if she knew her children would be separated from her in the U.S., she would have remained and faced the threats of violence in her hometown.

Speakers discussed biblical sources, commentary from the Midrash and the perspective of rabbis from the 19th to and 21st centuries. Citing Deuteronomy, Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Kehillat Etz Chayim in Oak Park said we are told to welcome and bring in strangers.

“If we turn them away, we are doing desecration of our country, of being Jewish,” he said. “You learn the Torah so you can do — to bring us to action.”

Speakers reminded the audience of the Jewish history of slavery in Egypt and the Jewish belief that all people are created in the image of God. However, the Jewish people were not exempt from “baseless hatred” — their “xenophobia” resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple.

Rabbi Jennifer Lader of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield gave a chronology of recent immigration events in the U.S. “When we said, ‘Never again,’ we meant never again. If I am only for myself, who am I?” she asked.

Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit cited 36 times that the Bible commands that strangers be welcomed and treated humanely — evidence this is important and difficult to accomplish.

Program attendees were urged to get involved in the immigration issue by immigration lawyer Ruby Robinson, vice president of JCRC/AJC. He recommended talking to elected officials about immigration and supporting efforts to welcome immigrants.

For local and national resources for action, go to jcrcajc.org/take-action.



  1. I understand that the Strangers in our Midst’ program was wonderful. One of my oldest friends Donna Perlman told me that her Rabbi, Rabbi Aaron Bergman spoke with an eloquence that she had never experienced before about Heschel and others who have stood up for unjust practices. In my mind, this is a time for a call to action. Unfortunately, Rabbi Bergman is silent on this front. It is his strong belief that it is not a Rabbi’s place to lead their congregation that smacks of anything political. At the Well sponsored event dealing with the Nazi chants of “Jews will not replace us”, Rabbi Bergman said that it was not his job to get involved. In my mind, God marked his words in his little black book. In the march for gun control, I begged Rabbi Bergman to get involved and lead his congregation in a protest march. At that march, the wonderful Rabbis of Temple Israel and SZ as well as other congregations lead groups of young and old people in prayer and resolve for gun control. Meanwhile back at Adat Shalom the good Rabbi made jokes from the Bimah and didn’t mention one word about the march or the issue.

    Shame on him and shame on the President and the Executive Board of Adat Shalom. Hopefully, Rabbi Bergman will trade in his eloquence for the ability to make and lead a call to action for gun control.

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