I am a proud third generation American who has now fathered a fourth generation of Americans. My family's story is like that of many Ashkenazic Jews: my great-grandparents families fled the Pale of Settlement at the turn of the twentieth century due to pogroms and persecutions. They fled to North America with virtually nothing. They came on a hope and a prayer. They struggled so that their children might have a better life than they experienced in Russia. They came to a country which embodied the ideal of the United States as penned by Emma Lazarus, a Jew born in New York City. Her words from her poem "The New Colossus" can be found on pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
The truth is, all of us are immigrants, except of course for those of Native American ancestry. All of us have a story to share. Some of our ancestors were seeking out religious freedom like the pilgrims. Some were fleeing famine and blight like the Irish. Some were simply seeking out better economic opportunities. This is the American story. This is the American dream.
Sadly the story of America is also filled with waves of anti-immigrant sentiment. It was the Irish. Then it was the Jews. Then, it was and still is the Hispanics, and well now, it's the Muslims. We've seen the rhetoric before, and I am sure we will see it again. But it has always been our better nature to eventually reject the politics of nativism. Though sometimes too late. Most notably the 'Voyage of the Damned.' 900 refugee German Jews were denied entry into Cuba, then the United States and then Canada. They ended up back in Europe where at least one quarter of them were ultimately murdered by the Nazis.
We have also been reminded recently that the most famous Holocaust Victim, Anne Frank, and her family were denied entry into the United States because of our restrictive immigration policies. These policies were based in part in fear that Jews from Europe would spy on the U.S. on behalf of the Germans. Sound familiar?
Now I am not going to get into the politics of targeting Muslims from specific countries, namely those that have never been involved in terrorist attacks on our soil. I'll leave that up to others. Instead I am writing this to appeal to the humanity of my readers. The current Executive Order banning Muslims from specific countries is cruel, ineffective, anti-American, and in some cases, un-Constituional.
Part of the reason why Islamic terrorists hate us so much is because we are a free and open society that is tolerant and welcoming. We embody everything they despise. Let's not do them any favors by becoming more like them. Please do not allow fear of the other to turn us into that which we will ultimately come to hate about ourselves. We are better than that. I know this because we are all immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. Many of us are also refugees or the sons and daughters of refugees. Instead let's live up to the words written in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty rather than ignore them.
Rabbi Sharff is the Senior Rabbi for The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York. He was raised in Houston, Texas where he discovered the acoustic and electric guitar while sitting in his dorm room one day. Rabbi Sharff graduated from the University of Texas and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
Rabbi Sharff is the rhythm guitarist for RTR's in House Band, and he also served as the editor for Howard Salmon's z"l Comic Book Siddur.