Shofar and Sanctuary

My congregation Temple Beth Hatfiloh took the step of becoming a sanctuary congregation as a means of advocating for immigrant justice. Here are the words I shared at our ceremony on August 29, attended by about 100 community members, including the faith community, city leaders, state legislators and a representative from our member of Congress.

Thank you for being here today.

I want to share two stories, one ancient and mythic, one modern and historic, that bring us to this moment today outside of our building here at TBH.

The first is the story of the Exodus from our sacred Scripture, which tells of the Israelites leaving oppression in Egypt and journeying to the Promised Land. It was a journey fraught with internal and external conflict, reminding us that the journey to liberation is not an easy one. And it was a journey that necessitated leaving a place one considered home in order to build a better life in a new land.

The second is the story of the destruction of European Jewry in World War II, the Holocaust. The genocide of our people that murdered millions, and also created a generation of refugees who, after surviving, were forced to find new homes often times on distant shores. And we also know that those who attempted to flee, either before or during those events, were met with closed doors and restrictive quotas, fueled by anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

These two stories are fundamental to our Jewish spiritual and cultural identity. And it is why in the recent history of our country, we have responded to many of the injustices being promulgated, but specifically to ones related to immigration. From travel bans to zero tolerance family separation policies, we as Jews and as a faith community demand a different reality.

With this in mind, with a connection to our tradition and our history, that we here today declare Temple Beth Hatfiloh to be a sanctuary congregation. Among other acts of support for immigrant justice, we commit offer up physical sanctuary in the name of immigrant support and advocacy, to support all of our neighbors.

We do not to this alone, we do with our partners in faith communities. Local faith communities have formed the Greater South Sound Faith Network for Immigrant and Refugee Support, pledging mutual aid to faith communities offering sanctuary. And we do this with CIELO, Strengthening Sanctuary, and other immigrant rights groups in Olympia and throughout the region, who we will rely on for resources and for matching with potential candidates, should the need arise.

And we join with other faith communities nationwide who, under the umbrella of the New Sanctuary Movement, have joined together in this common cause and similar pursuit.

It was a long and deliberate process to get to this point, and will continue to be deliberate as we decide when the relationship and conditions are right to invite someone into sanctuary. We recognize and accept the challenges that lay ahead, knowing too that we have the support of others as we navigate this new terrain.

On the Jewish calendar it is the month of Elul, the month that leads up to the High Holidays: the New Year and Day of Atonement. These are our most sacred days on which we are called to examine our behavior, correct for past wrongs, and commit to do better in the future. We do this on an individual level, and we do it as a society as well.

Throughout the month of Elul it is customary to blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, which plays a prominent role in these holidays. The shofar has many meanings:

It is a call to wake up, as we open our eyes to past wrongs and new possibilities.

It is a call to assembly, as we come together and find strength and support in one another.

It is a call for liberation, to announce a better future of justice and equality.

And, as we remember the story of Jericho in the Book of Joshua, it was the shofar that brought down the border walls.

So as we make this announcement we sound the shofar. May its sound continue to reverberate through our souls to inspire us to wake up, assemble and liberate as we continue to build a just society for us and all who dwell in our midst.

 

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