Children in Concentration Camps

This past week there was some tension in the Jewish community over whether it is appropriate to call U.S. detention centers housing migrants “concentration camps.” There were also horrific news articles about how children are being denied basics like toothbrushes, made to sleep on cold floors, and must represent themselves in court. We are talking about little children - the youngest of which is four months old.

I am ashamed that some in the Jewish community seem more outraged by the use of a term they feel belongs uniquely to the Jewish experience, than about innocent children being taken from their parents and tortured in these ways. 

What is a concentration camp? It is a small area in which innocent people are held without due process based on their ethnicity or country of origin. We have to use this term to describe what is happening because there has been too much complacency so far. Let’s start calling things what they are. Concentration camps. Torture. There are going to be round ups of migrants. The repetition of history is happening as we are watching. 

I serve many community members who are not in the U.S. But do we as Jews not hold countries besides Germany and Poland accountable for allowing the Holocaust to happen? Do we not wish there had been an international effort to stop it? We need to be that effort. “Never again” is right now. 

Here’s what I have done and I encourage you to join me:

- I wrote to my MP, to MP Freeland (who handles foreign affairs and diplomacy), and our Prime Minister asking them to use any possible diplomatic channels to ask for this to end. At the very least, these migrants — children! — deserve basic care and legal representation. 

- I have financially supported RAICES, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center — all doing good work on the ground.

- I posted about this issue on my professional and personal social media, sounding the alarm and saying that as a Jew I am deeply concerned about where concentration camps and round ups are heading. I want everyone to act.

- I sent a message to my rabbinic colleagues in the Humanistic Jewish movement saying that after our summer meetings in Chicago (already booked), I will no longer travel to the United States. No more vacations or work travel there until this ends. It is time to vote with our dollars and our feet. I will not spend one more dollar in that country while children are being tortured. 

It feels like it is not enough but it is a start. Who’s with me? If you can’t do all of these things, what can you do? Let’s show the world that when Jews say “Never Again” we mean for all people. 


Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

I write this on the day that news broke of a horrendous terrorist attack, murdering dozens of worshippers at two Christchurch Mosques. You know the story, and have all processed this in your way. That morning, on my way to an appointment, I saw a simple bouquet of flowers placed at the closed door of a Mosque. I was touched that someone had the thoughtfulness to create that simple, loving gesture of support.

It’s never going to be something I can comprehend; taking the lives of others because of fear and hate will never make sense to me. I’m sure you feel the same way. The senseless loss of life, and destruction of families and communities, is mind-boggling and heart-wrenching. We are reading and hearing, and will continue to read and hear, stories of these people. It’s important that we do that; these were real people with real lives and they deserved to be remembered as humans and not numbers in a climbing death-toll. But I want to use this space to talk about some of these issues in a broader frame. This isn’t to detract from the sadness and loss, it’s to help ensure these attacks stop so there needn’t be more sadness and loss.

I think the time is here for some brave conversations. It’s easy and uncontroversial to say that our thoughts are with the victims and their families. It’s harder to say what is true in our hearts but, as Secular Humanistic Jews, that’s our way of being: we say what we believe and we believe what we say. We know these attackers were fuelled by anti-immigrant sentiment. It is dangerous and it is widespread, both abroad and here at home.

I am deeply concerned about political leaders who fan the flames of white supremacy by scapegoating and targeting immigrants and refugees. I am also angry at our leaders who can’t find it in themselves to denounce white supremacists. None of us is responsible for what happened in Christchurch, but each of us is responsible for holding our leaders to account and letting them know that xenophobia and hate have no place here. I urge you to consider that voting for someone who speaks alongside known white supremacists sends the message that this, all of this, is ok. It’s so far from ok.

We already know that the dynamics that led to this attack on Mosques are the same dynamics that led to the attacks in a Pittsburgh synagogue last fall. For all the tension between Jews and Muslims, we face a very real common enemy now: the growing movements of white supremacists who enjoy proximity to people in power, who are emboldened by fake news and hate online, and who have access to weapons that should not exist. This is all my own opinion and, as always, you are welcome to disagree. But I’m beyond tears now; I’m angry. I think a lot of you feel the same way. We need to be loud that this can’t keep happening. We deserve a much kinder, loving world.