Last Friday night, my wife and I celebrated the first day of Passover by visiting with friends and participating in a Seder. Our hosts had their children and grandchildren at the table as well as other friends visiting from out of town. Three-year-old Parker serenaded us with a carefully-rehearsed segment of the Seder, asking why we celebrate and why the celebration is so different from the rest of the year. And all of us read in turn from the Haggadah, the “narration,” which begins with an invitation, “all who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are needy, let them come and celebrate.” We retell the history of the migration of the Hebrews into Egypt, their subjugation, and their eventual redemption and freedom from enslavement.
A Seder is a happy celebration. The huge meal and singing create a lighthearted time, made more enjoyable by the four cupsful we drink, holding wine and significance. A full cup of wine symbolizes complete happiness. As we recite the 10 plagues that the Egyptians suffered, we pour a small amount of wine from our cups for each of the plagues to remind us that our freedom was paid for by the suffering of others; our celebration is tempered by the heavy price our captors paid to obtain our freedom.
The narration also reminds us of the suffering our ancestors endured during centuries of enslavement. It is the very center of Judeo-Christian morality — “the foreigner among you, you must treat as yourselves, for you were strangers in a land not your own.” It is one of the many commandments found in the Pentateuch, the part of the Old Testament Judaism calls The Law.
That moral perspective undoubtedly informed the writer of the poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. When you were still a schoolkid, you probably learned some lines from that poem: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”
Ours is a nation of immigrants, many of whom contribute greatly to our society. For example, the Swedish Royal Academy reports that just since 2000, immigrants to the United States have been awarded 33 of the 85 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Physics, and Medicine. Apple and Amazon were founded by the sons of immigrants. If you wonder what’s in your wallet, Capital One is the brainchild of an immigrant, too. And I wonder if there’s a single American who has never eaten something whose recipe entered our country along with Asian, Caribbean, or Central American refugees. America prospers as its cultural diversity grows. For America to accept immigrants is not only a good thing, it’s the right thing to do.
Not everyone sees it that way. President Trump and one or two of his xenophobic advisors have pushed to suppress immigration of all kinds.
Next month, it will be exactly 80 years since America refused to allow the MS St Louis to reach port and grant asylum to more than 900 Jewish refugees seeking to escape Nazi Germany. History shows that the St Louis was forced to return to Europe, where many of its passengers wound up victims of the Holocaust. Earlier this month, the president told thousands of Central Americans trying to save their lives, “Our country is full. Turn Around.” One can only wonder what fate awaits the Hondurans trying to get away from that country’s death squads.
No one wants open borders, but the hardest of White House hard-liners have tried to squelch legal immigration and refuse entry to the tempest-tost people of whom Emma Lazarus was thinking when she wrote “The New Colossus.” The President has used their wretched conditions as a political weapon. His actions offend America’s conscience and stand as an affront to our character.
Conservative or progressive, Republican, Democrat, or independent — it doesn’t matter when it comes to standing up for American values or to the person who has made a political career out of trampling on them. It’s time for Americans to do what’s right.