As a professional in the Jewish community for more than 30 years. I’ve witnessed inspiring and often dramatic humanitarian efforts firsthand, From the release of Jews from the former Soviet Union, to the rescue of Ethiopian Jews, I’ve been proud to see how our collective response to humanitarian need in the midst of crisis has saved and improved lives.
But today I am dismayed by the lackluster response to date by our community to actions by our government toward migrants at our borders.
Some of our Jewish organizations have written to the Trump administration expressing outrage over its policies. This is commendable. But it is not enough. Not when mothers and babies are being torn apart. Not when young children are being pulled away from their parents. Not when our nation is inflicting pain on innocent people who are simply struggling to survive in an increasingly cruel world.
As reported by CNN this past week, a Honduran mother at the border in Mexico was breastfeeding her infant child at a detention center and was separated from her child by American authorities. The child was taken from its mother, who was handcuffed for resisting. It is not clear why they were separated or where they were sent. The result is that they are not together. I cannot imagine the pain both mother and child are experiencing.
Yet, I do know my own pain and sense of inability to help her at this most terrible moment. I am ashamed. I am angry at my country for its callous response to basic human needs and its amoral behavior and I am struggling with what I, as an individual, a Jew, an American, can do to return this mother—and so many other parents—to their children, to stop the cruel separation of families at our borders.
What can we do to coalesce and save these families in their time of crisis?
I must cry out—where are our Jewish leaders now when we need action to stand up to this very present threat to humanity right inside our nation? Where are the kinder transport efforts of our day? Where is the moral outrage? The demonstrations? The marches on Washington? The busloads of attorneys going to the border to help? What can we do to coalesce and save these families in their time of crisis?
I never expected to have to be part of a rescue of people whose lives were so basically threatened. I assumed, naively, that this was all history to be absorbed, but not repeated. But now I am confronted with the reality that evil remains in our world and must be struck down.
As before, we as a community must join our outraged voices in a chorus that demands action—not just words. We can make a difference. We can – through our collective power – force change. We can and we must stand up to evil and lead the way to protecting those families on our borders.
Not simply with words, but with demonstrable action to grab them from the hands of a government whose actions we don’t support and whose moral compass has been cast aside.
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
I cannot watch nor hear another news report about families torn apart at our borders, nor read another press release from our well-meaning Jewish organizations who have sent another letter of outrage to our government. It is not enough. It is time to act. These families cannot wait for the wheels of diplomacy and organizational engagement to occur.
It is time for our Jewish leaders, our rabbis, our People to step forward and say, “This cannot stand. We will not stand silently by while mothers and fathers are separated from their children. We know what that pain feels like and we will do all we can to prevent that pain from tearing apart another generation of children and parents, be they Mexican, or Honduran or Guatemalan or American. We understand that pain and we share that pain and will work tirelessly to change this world to give you the right to live freely and in peace.”
Yes, we must shout our Jewish values now, more than ever, and create the impact we as a community have so proudly and effectively realized in the past.
As Elie Wiesel so wisely counseled, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Gail Hyman has served in senior professional leadership positions at UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Birthright Israel Foundation.