[The following speech was delivered at the Muslim Ban Protest in Providence, RI the day after the Executive Order on immigration, 1/29/17. Shared now–both in response to the recent Supreme Court decision to partially allow the ban and also in light of finding ourselves this week at the start of a period on the Jewish calendar known as “Bein ha-Metzarim,” “between the narrow places”–with hopes of keeping us woke to Mizrayim. ]
Bo el Paroh – “GO to Pharaoh…”
These are the words from the Hebrew Bible that will be read in synagogues around the world this week – this is the command with which this week’s Torah reading opens. Moses is told he must go speak truth to power. GO TO PHAROAH. This is a call that goes out to us again and again and ever so pressingly, so very urgently, right now. Going to Pharaoh. This is what we’re doing here today.
I’m humbled and proud and despairing, outraged and heartbroken and determined as I stand with you here in this moment.
I stand with you today as a daughter – the daughter of an immigrant from Iran. When I heard the news of the Executive Order banning citizens of 7 majority Muslim countries, including Iran – I trembled to think what might have become of my own family had such an edict rained down before my father had American citizenship….
I stand with you today as a woman – a woman married to a man who is not a citizen of this country. I speak to you aware of our tremendous privilege that my husband is an Australian citizen and not a citizen of a Muslim majority country….
I stand with you today as a Jew. A Jew enraged at the thought of how many Jewish lives could have been saved if this country’s policies on refugees and immigration had been otherwise during the 30s, how many need not have perished in Europe during WWII if only Roosevelt had willed it so.
I stand with you today as a rabbi – a rabbi outraged and ashamed to hear Trump’s manipulation of a Bible quote I hold dear in his inaugural address. “The Bible tells us,” he said – “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” “God’s people”?! I believe he was intending to quote Psalm 133, but his translation and application have subverted its meaning. Hineh ma tov u’ma-naim, shevet ahim gam yahad. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” We are ALL God’s people! [ALL brothers , or—in non-binary/non-gendered terms—siblings!] This verse and this moment demand that we think expansively of brotherhood– we must be unified in that understanding and assertion…
I stand with you today as a mother – a mother here with her three children, eager for this protest to serve as an opportunity for them to see and be part of what this verse is really about.
I stand with you today as a proud and agitated American. An American-Iranian-Jewish mother and wife and daughter of immigrants who was taught to remember: on Passover, we tell the story of Israelites in bondage and say “this year we are enslaved – next year may we be free….” Egypt, in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, and the word comes to represent the places of narrowness and constriction that we perennially face on the path toward personal and collective liberation. That is why each and every year, we say next year may we be free, because we know well that there is always more work to do on the road to redemption. I was raised to remember to care for the stranger because I was the stranger – and the oppressed, those seeking protection – because my people have been oppressed and in need of protection. I was taught to be ever vigilant against Pharaohs, to remember the Holocaust, and to never stand by while history threatens to repeat those horrors on anyone, anywhere.
This Executive Order—this Muslim Ban—is an egregious manifestation of Mitzrayim … and even if it is stayed or amended, it is clear we are going to need to remain awake and resilient…. Egypt is upon us, friends, and we’re going to need to be BRAVE, to LOVE bravely – across lines and despite fears.
We are all God’s people – we are all each other’s people. We are going to need to boldly go to Pharaoh and say LET OUR PEOPLE IN.
And this is what Emma Lazarus—the Jewish immigrant whose words grace the Statue of Liberty—meant when she famously said that “until we are all free, we are none of us free.” I wish we didn’t need a moment like this one to be reminded of this truth, but we are here recalling together today: UNTIL WE ARE ALL FREE, WE ARE NONE OF US FREE.
I’m humbled and proud and despairing, outraged and heartbroken and determined as I stand with you here in this moment – as we declare together to our Muslim neighbors, friends and students – to refugees and immigrants and international students from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and more: know this and hear this: you are our brothers and sisters; we will dwell with you in unity – we will fight for you. We will GO TO PHAROAH. This is our pledge.