Global, Justice

A Dream of Flight: Fleeing the Onslaught/Never Again

I had the dream the other night: it was time to go. We were preparing to leave the country for good.

Initially, the dream had a happy, road trip vibe. I was packing snacks and wrangling the cats into the car. But a refrain echoed: teachers are no longer safe in the schools. I flashed on news images of angry mobs shouting down boards of education, thought of my history professor colleagues in Florida joking grimly that their syllabi now made them into criminals.

The dream refrain resounded until I realized that this was no ordinary road trip: we were leaving for good. We would never see our house or neighborhood again.

I looked at our house one last time, trying to imprint on my brain every detail of twenty years of living there. There were no locks we could leave on our doors that would protect our home. History is like a flood: the water eventually seeps underneath any obstacle, springing the doors open so that the deluge inundates everything. Few if any cherished relics withstand the tide.

As we drove away, we saw gunfights in the streets. No one tried to stop them or impose any kind of civic order. Everyone seemed to be armed, though we were not. Would we make it to the border? And, what then?

I woke up in the strange hours before morning, heart pounding, and wondered: do all Jews dream versions of this dream? Flight and migration are in our DNA, as they are in those of so many others forced to flee their homes. Jewish history is a map of displacement, flight, and temporary refuge. Even while stationary and relatively safe, we continue to ruminate on leaving.
During the long nightmare of the twentieth century, the refuge created for Jews in Israel precipitated the ongoing displacement of Palestinians. Currently, climate change, military violence, state repression, and the despoiling of ecosystems force millions to leave their homes. Every single day, people die trying to find refuge: while crossing the Mediterranean in small rafts, covering rough ground on foot, or running into hostile forces bent on deterring or harming them.

Surviving such histories leaves an imprint that can be activated by personal experience or triggered by the accumulating evidence of danger. Since the election of 2016 I have slept with my family’s passports in the drawer of my nightstand. I joke about this, but periodically I make sure they are still there.

The evidence mounts. White supremacist terror increases. Synagogues, mosques, and churches become targets. Mass killing by gun violence is a daily occurrence. White nationalism has achieved enough legitimacy that its acolytes show up, hoodless and empowered, in our statehouses and courts. There, they implement cruel and antediluvian policies, such as the ones restricting bodily autonomy and health care access for women and LGBTQ people; they evict elected representatives and protesters who would stand in their way.

Friends talk about leaving for good; my mother repeatedly suggests we all go to Canada. With enough cash and assets, you can be welcome anywhere, it’s true. But white American fantasies of refuge drive me crazy. Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Canada embraces anyone brave enough to escape the Republic of Gilead and provides them with housing, work, and medical care, including glasses and psychotherapy.

Currently no place in the world gives refugees a reception anything like the one represented in this dystopian drama. There are only better and worse camps and detention centers, and that’s in countries that accept refugees at all. With its continued practices of detaining and incarcerating asylum seekers, separating migrant relatives from one and other, or excluding people on the move entirely, the United States is one of the worst.

In the way of dreams, mine did not include a detailed plan. Maybe we would pretend to be tourists, drive across the Canadian border – and then what? Eventually, we would have run out of tourist status and become undocumented. We would not have been able to work without papers, would have had to live off savings and hope to get work in the underground economy. Like millions of people the world over, we would have been stateless and without access to basic human rights.
Though it didn’t come with a plan, my dream did convey an imperative. I don’t believe that Jews are god’s chosen people, because if there is a god, I doubt they would play favorites like that. But I do believe that we are chosen as witnesses by our history of displacement and exile.

Being chosen by history is no picnic. It means waking up from dreams like mine into a reality that is not so far off from it; it means looking clear-eyed at the present to see who is most endangered and then offering solidarity and support. It requires that we don’t build walls around our communities, because our history tells us that no wall, no fence, no locks on any doors make us safe. Instead, our history of exile and displacement demands that we open the locks to the stranger outside, to people on the move driven to shelter, that we let them in and stand with them.

This summer, the Jewish-led migrant rights organization Never Again Action, in partnership with immigrant-led organizations, will stage a Migrant Solidarity Assembly in Austin, Texas. Under Governor Greg Abbot, Texas has been the site of some of the most cruel and repressive policies towards migrants and asylum seekers in the nation. Texas policies often become the model for similar, national policies. Together, we will convene, discuss, stage protests and celebrate our solidarity. Join us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.