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The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

July 13, 2020 by

How To Save a Life in the Next 72 Hours

Just a week ago, as we celebrated the July 4th holiday weekend, the American festival of freedom, one thing I did stood out from the rest. The true celebration of freedom for me was when I sent my comments to the Federal government opposing the new regulations being proposed regarding those seeking asylum. This new proposal, which will become law by executive order if it is not stopped, basically strips asylum seekers of the few rights they have. Judges will be able to dismiss cases without hearings. The definition of ‘persecution’ would be changed, so that fleeing threats of violence or even death may not be sufficient.

These regulations, brought to you by the same people who decided to separate children from their parents, will be particularly loathsome for women and for those who are LGBTQ. Women will no longer be considered “persecuted” based on escaping repeated acts of domestic violence. Gender-based persecution will no longer qualify as a category of persecution. This means that gay and transgender asylum seekers will no longer be eligible for asylum based on their fear of discrimination, violence or even death, due to their gender. We all know that there are still many countries around the world where just being gay is a crime punishable by execution. To stop these regulations will be a matter of life or death to abused women and members of the LGBTQ community.

As I wrote my comments, I thought of Bracha, my best friend growing up. She was always amazed that I had grandparents. She had no living grandparents, and had never met them, as they were all murdered during the Holocaust. It was something I couldn’t fathom. Last year, in March 2019, I went to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, specifically to view the exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust.” It was a riveting and terribly upsetting exhibit. There was extensive evidence of the desire of thousands of people, Jews, Homosexuals & Romas, who wished to flee persecution in Nazi Germany, who were refused entrance to the United States, due to fear-based immigration and asylum policies, that had been put into effect after World War I. 

As I heard about these new ‘Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal: Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review,” I thought of that exhibit. I thought of my friend whose grandparents were incinerated.. I thought of my religious belief system, which exhorts me to care for the stranger, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. Caring for the stranger is mentioned no less than 36 times in the Torah, more than any other commandment. 

I feel responsible to make sure that the fears and prejudices that preyed upon our government a century ago are not replayed now– fears of economic disaster, fears of immigrants, fear and loathing of women and gay people, fears of a changing society.

When I was growing up, I sometimes thought that I wanted to “save the world,” perhaps by being a peacemaker at the United Nations. In the next 72 hours, YOU HAVE THE CHANCE TO SAVE A LIFE. The deadline for comments is July 15th at midnight. All you have to do is write your comments on this link. 

Here is a simple template that you can use and share with family/friends: 

I strongly oppose the proposed asylum rules. These rules would radically change asylum law, and deny protection to vulnerable asylum seekers fleeing persecution, who will be returned to countries where their lives could be in danger. More specifically, I object to the rule for the following reasons: (insert own points, in your own words, about why you oppose the rule. Can discuss why you believe the right to asylum should be preserved, or what asylum seekers contribute to our country, or how asylum is fundamental to who we are. 

Just one letter. And as the Talmud says, If you save one life, it is as though you saved the world.

Nechama Liss-Levinson, Ph.D. is a psychologist and an author. Her book, When the Hurricane Came, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards, Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She has written for The Forward, Lilith, Kveller, The Jewish World and other publications.