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Tag : Immigration

July 27, 2020 by

Immigration Activism Met Spirituality at Our Quarantine Seder

My husband, Aryeh, and I have been counting many things over the past several months: the days of quarantine; the omer, those days between Passover and Shavuot; the days that Darwin Ramos will remain with us in our home.

Aryeh and I were at an immigration protest at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Manhattan 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 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?

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. Darwin’s lawyer had connected him with the Project for Torture Victims. As he worked with the psychologist, Darwin slowly began sharing more of his story.

ANDREA HODOS, The Lilith Blog

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The Lilith Blog

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.

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The Lilith Blog

May 28, 2020 by

When Will the Counting End?

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot starts tonight. My husband, Aryeh, and I have been counting many things over the past several months: 1) the days of quarantine. 2) the omer. 3) the days that Darwin Ramos will remain with us in our home. Like everything else this year, Shavuot will be different. Not only because of the quarantine, but also because we will be spending this holiday in quarantine with Darwin.

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April 20, 2020 by

Fiction: Paved With Gold

“WHAT IF the journey kills us?” she asks him night after night. “If we stay, surely they will put us in the ground,” is what he answers her every time.

So they leave, two more huddled masses sailing from old world to new. The newlyweds carry their tightly bundled life on board: Candlesticks, prayer shawl, brown crusted bread,
hand-stitched lace, a family ring tightly sewn into the band of her thick wool skirt.

On day three as she begins to form sky blue and pickle green dreams of home, the young wife is yanked awake by the sound of her name. “Anna,” her new husband whispers before clutching his chest and taking in two shallow breaths. In that moment Anna understands that pleasantly shaded dreams will never visit her sleep again.

Up on deck she feels clean air on her face for the first time
since setting sail. The salty spray stings her skin turning her
cheeks and the tip of her nose a raw, fiery red. Four queasy
strangers hurl her husband into the deepest of graves. His eyes
wide open. His shoes still on his feet. The ocean’s rage dampens
the sound his clothed body makes when it smacks the sea.
Jagged waves use him for a watery game of catch. Finally to the
bottom he sinks. “See,” she wants to tell the man she’ll never get
to know. “They aren’t putting you in the ground.”

Man overboard. Woman journeying on.

WHENEVER SHE COULD, Anna made a point of detouring through this alley, an especially putrid one that others made a point of avoiding. The closeness of the buildings kept the space dark even at noon on the sunniest day and the narrow strip captured every odor that blew south of 10th Street and east of the Bowery. Anna, who rarely felt sorry for anyone, took pity on this forgotten strip. Perhaps because she understood what it felt like to gasp for fresh air and never get any. Mostly Anna came here to be alone, something that she missed from her old life more than almost anything else, more than her dead husband, more than her old lumpy feather bed, more than her sisters, her parents, and the life she left behind.

“Good enough,” Anna thought as she dislodged a pebble from her shoe. She steadied herself against the dilapidated building’s corner to re-lace it for the rest of the way home. As she lifted her foot she noticed her heel was loose.

“Two days early,” Anna mumbled.”

It was only Thursday. The glue usually gives out on Sunday allowing her to fix it using the jar next to the table where she makes buttonholes 60 hours a week. She didn’t know why the glue always sat there next to the two women who pieced together men’s pant legs or, for that matter, if anyone else ever used it. What she did know was that if she got there early enough no one noticed her opening the jar with the German label. At home—at what used to be home—she wouldn’t so much as pluck a blade of grass from ground that belonged to someone else. But that was before. Before the noise, before broken shoes, and before
overcrowded rooms and sewing shops became her life.

Manhattan’s Lower East Side following the turn of the century was packed tighter than the steamship that carried 22-year-old Anna to it. The streets were like scenes from fever
dreams she couldn’t untangle, teeming with peddlers with their off-balance carts, pale children with their equally pasty families, wagons with their dirty horses that defecated at will in the street, and the occasional diseased chicken with its filthy feathers molting. It smelled as bad as it looked. The odor of uncontained sewage, rarely washed bodies, and the stink of survival clung to the entire neighborhood and permanently worked its way into her hair and clothes. But the worst part for Anna was the noise. Inescapable noise. High-pitched noise, deep booming noise, hissing noise, rhythmic noise, random noise. Noise that infiltrated her sleep. Noise that made it hard for her to eat. Noise that shot bullet holes through her best memories.

With all that noise, it was the constant beat of the sewing machine that she hated the most. The rapid fire of the needle piercing cloth wafted through every street, every apartment, every butcher shop, so no matter where you stood inside or outside you could hear the Singers cry. For Anna, who found it to be the cruelest of the noises, the sounds of the stitching factories registered on her skin. Usually on her arms between her elbows and wrists. She swore she could feel each stitch being put down. It pounded on her every minute of every day. That is except for when she walked through this one nameless and otherwise horrible alley. Her arms and head quieted in this foul-smelling, dark shred of a place that couldn’t fit three-people across. In the alley she could hear herself hum. Anna didn’t even know she liked to hum until she arrived in New York City.

But a loose heel on a Thursday was nothing to hum about. The same mud puddle that gifted her the pebble must have loosened her heel. She shook her head. Anna Gold’s luck ran like that. It didn’t know one day of the week from the next but always seemed to show up at the wrong time all the same. It got lost in muck and small bottles of forgotten glue in windowless apartments turned makeshift sewing factories so it never showed up for the big stuff. It might provide a place to scratch your back but only after it first led you to coarse wool or a cold stove. Still, she acknowledged that her luck at least bumped into her on occasion unlike some of the women who didn’t even have enough rough wool for a sweater or found themselves with gaping holes in the bottom of their shoes too big to be fixed with borrowed glue.

Footsteps took Anna out of her head. Someone else was in the alley. Her alley. Quickly she fixed her shoe, and took a step away from the wall before preparing to walk the rest of the way home on the screaming streets. At the moment the first set of footsteps passed her, another man rounded the corner so fast and so carelessly that it knocked her backwards.

“Sorry,” he said. “My apologies, Ma’am,” he offered his hand and looked at her eyes. “Oh, I mean, Miss.”

Anna did not correct him. Anyway she wasn’t sure if she qualified as a miss or ma’am anymore. She was used to people thinking she was younger. A lot younger. Her skin and figure were almost that of a girl. Only her hands, her feet, and her broken soul hinted at the truth. Anna refused his hand and steadied herself once again before carefully turning on her glued heels. Instead of stepping aside to let her navigate the tight passage the man moved closer to her face.

“I bet you have a pretty smile,” he said with his stare fixed on her eyes. “When you smile.”

He leaned in and ran his thumb across her jawline before turning his head.

“How much?” he whispered into her ear. His hot breath stung like forgotten onions rotting from the inside out.

How much, she thought. How much for what? For a hundred pair of shoes? For a hundred bottles of glue? For a hundred ways to reverse what she knew would be the fate of the people she left behind? For a hundred minutes of quiet in a row? For a hundred days of sleep? She knew he didn’t have “how much.” No one in the world had that “how much.”

“Now, there, you don’t have to play shy with me” he told her ear.

Anna made her mouth form the shape of a smile. His posture relaxed as her lips tilted upward. And, right at that moment she growled. He looked surprised but didn’t move out of the way. He pressed his thumb down harder into the flesh of her cheek. It hurt. She opened her mouth, shook her head, and bit his finger. She was pleased to see that she had drawn blood. Before the shock of the bite and blood wore off, Anna ran home leaving both heels in the street. The downbeat of the Singers followed.

MONTHS LATER WHEN they meet again in her alley the rotten-onion-breathed man does not recognize Anna. Stolen German glue no longer holds her shoes together and her sweater has been replaced with a proper ladies coat. It’s a deep brown; the color of early spring earth and its soft velvet collar rests on the patch of skin on her back that once screamed from coarse wool. Anna’s ear turns hot as she tells him the price for her best girl, three times the going rate. He doesn’t flinch at the number and, this time, she does not smile.

“Be careful, some of us bite,” Anna warned him as they walk away. She then watches the man and girl disappear into her alley and feels the pain of a hundred phantom pebbles lodged in her shoe.

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The Lilith Blog

January 27, 2020 by

How Family Separation in the Holocaust Affected My Life Forever

I am up watching the news on my phone, and I am fixated on the pictures of small children alone with tinfoil blankets in our own country’s detention centers. Caged like animals, they look alone. Huddled. Despondent.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach from seeing these beautiful children on the news hits me because I feel like I know. I don’t know what it feels to be torn from your parents at a young age, but I know what it feels like to be a child of someone torn from their parents at a young age. Because of my experience with my father who was on the kindertransport in the Holocaust, I not only feel for these children, but feel for their children and generations to come that will feel the burden of this horror.

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July 9, 2019 by

A “Jewish Texican” Teen at the Border

If you don’t go to the respite center, you will never see the people who are crossing the border. I guess I was the most touched by the kids who were there who are my age. Because once you turn 18, you’re, like, an adult, and so you have to have one of those ankle monitors on. And this girl had just showered and she put on her new clothes, and she was like, “Oh, I need a pair of scissors,” in Spanish. And I had handed them to her and I was like, what could she possibly need scissors for? And she had to cut her pants because she couldn’t get it over the ankle monitor. And she’s, like, my age. Imagine what she’s gone through just to get here. And now she can’t just be normal.

EMILY GURWITZ, 18, in “The ‘Valley Girls’ of the Rio Grande,” The New York Times, May 3, 2019.

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The Lilith Blog

March 27, 2019 by

Standing Up for Immigrant Families, One Case at a Time

When New York Law School professor Lenni B. Benson created the Safe Passage Project in 2006, she did not anticipate that the number of unaccompanied minors trying to find asylum in the United States would skyrocket, going from 16,067 in 2011 to 41,456 in 2017.

But it has, causing tens of thousands of children to be taken into federal facilities where they will face formal removal proceeding that require them to appear before a judge and explain why they left home.

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The Lilith Blog

February 13, 2019 by

What It’s Like to Help Immigrants at the Border Right Now

When Hillary J. Exter retired in February 2018, after nearly 40 years as a public-interest lawyer, she knew that she wanted to spend at least some of her time working on immigration issues. This led her to the New Sanctuary Coalition.  As a volunteer, Exter has accompanied people to ICE check-ins and court dates, including bond hearings for those in detention, and for about six months has participated in the Coalition’s weekly pro se immigration clinic where she has provided information to those women and men who are not represented by counsel.

In early January she traveled to the Tijuana-San Diego border and worked with other volunteers to give information and solace to the thousands of asylum-seekers who are hoping to enter the US.

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The Lilith Blog

October 4, 2018 by

Pharaoh’s Family Separation Policy: A Midrash

This midrash was written in a wonderful class taught by Sabrina Sojourner at the National Havurah Institute in July 2018.  We had just gotten home from a trip, organized by the American Federation of Teachers to include religious leaders, teachers, and activists to Tornillo, Texas, on the border between El Paso and Mexico, where children, separated from their parents after crossing the border, were being held by our government.

From “locals” who live in El Paso, we were told that in Tornillo, where our government has just shipped thousands of migrant children to tent cities in the dark of night along with the detention center that has housed “kidnapped” children for months now, the drinking water is tainted, much like the water in Flint, MI. As Michael Moore said in his movie Fahrenheit 11/9, that’s one way to get rid of people you don’t want in your country…

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The Lilith Blog

August 22, 2018 by

Why Deporting an (Actual) Nazi Feels Hollow in the Age of Charlottesville

Under the heading of “better late than never!” the last known Nazi war criminal, the 95 year old Jakiw Palij, has been arrested at his Queens home by ICE and deported to Germany.  It’s justice done, yet in this summer of fear and anger, it feels hollow to focus on the past without looking at the present.

According to a press release from the State Department, Palij served as an armed guard at the Trawniki slave-labor camp for Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland during the second World War. He concealed his Nazi service when he immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1949. A federal court stripped Palij of his citizenship in 2003 and a U.S. immigration judge ordered him removed from the United States in 2004 based on his wartime activities and postwar immigration fraud. A careful reader will notice that that was 14 years ago. So, nu?

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