Federation adds its voice to travel ban opposition
A recent email blast signed by two leaders of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, urging opposition to President Donald Trump’s travel ban, brought both praise and condemnation from some who received it, says Emilie Socash, the Federation’s executive director.
Regardless of the feedback, Socash said she felt it was important for her and Federation President Steve Klein to put out the appeal for community members to sign a petition by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (www.HIAS.org) – one of many agencies supported by Federation dollars – asking Trump to rescind his executive order.
Socash said after the emails were sent out she quickly got two dozen emails in response praising them for taking a position, but also heard from four people she had not previously met who were critical of the email. The essence of the opposition was concern that the Federation should not be promoting a position on the issue.
Socash said she did not view the email so much as taking a political stand, but taking a Jewish position.
“Both Steve and I felt it was appropriate to encourage people to think Jewishly on this issue and to support the work of HIAS,” she said. “I am sure others felt pro and con about it and did not say anything. Our business is caring for people, so regardless of the political climate or judicial decision our business is caring for people and always will be.”
The Trump travel ban, issued in an executive order signed Jan. 27, barred entry to the United States by immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for 90 days. It also blocked all refugees for 120 days, and refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria indefinitely.
The days after Trump signed the executive order, thousands of Americans gathered at major international airports across the country to protest the travel ban. In the plight of those refused entry, many Jews saw something akin to what their forebears endured as they attempted to flee Nazi-occupied Europe.
The ban has been challenged in U.S. federal courts as discriminatory, with lawyers pointing to his calls as a candidate for a “Muslim ban” as proof. (As of presstime, a federal appeals court had upeld a stay to the ban.) On Feb. 7, HIAS initiated another legal challenge in U.S. District Court in Maryland to Trump’s order halting refugee resettlement.
The Pinellas/Pasco Federation email sent out on Jan. 30 reads in part:
Over thousands of years, from Israel to Babylon to Egypt to Spain to Western and Eastern Europe, we Jews have been torn from our homes through violence. This history has taught us, as the Torah says in Exodus, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
We are all extremely troubled by the recent issues surrounding refugee and immigration in the United States, kicked off on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s particularly relevant to note that in perhaps our greatest hour of need, the United States turned down thousands of Jewish refugees seeking sanctuary. We cannot forsake others seeking sanctuary in this crisis….
How this (current) directive was enforced over the first two days was both unconscionable and goes against what we believe in as Americans and Jews.
The Jewish Federation is proud to stand with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), with Jewish Family Service, with 1,700 American rabbis in 48 states and with more than 250 congregations across the country, in our commitment, as Jews and as Americans, to support and welcome refugees….
Restricting admission of foreigners from war-torn countries will not make us safer. Instead, it will deprive refugees of hope, safety, and the opportunity to restart their lives.
The policy will send a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is afraid of people who belong to certain religions, races, or nationalities. This order damages our international reputation by abandoning the people in Middle East countries who risked their lives and the lives of their families to help US soldiers.
And this order isn’t just about places and people far away. Our own Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services aids hundreds of refugee individuals: these are children and families fleeing persecution and violence.
Please stay informed and speak up for those who have no voice, because truly, we once were strangers too.