We have almost reached three months into our Sanctuary action at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, three months since we welcomed in a woman and child who are at risk of deportation as they work out their asylum claim, hoping to stay in the United States.
It has been a tremendously intense and moving few months. Serving as a Sanctuary congregation has been one of the most challenging and powerful things we have done as a congregational and interfaith community. Putting Sanctuary into action, enacting a plan that we developed over the past two years, has been a huge logistical endeavor, both humbling and empowering. I am so proud of the TBH Task Force that first built a process and organization from the ground up through research, experimentation, partnership, and mission, and is now overseeing its implementation.
In addition, what has been inspiring to me is witnessing the breadth and depth of relationships that have developed among the members of TBH who have engaged in this work, across faith communities who are partnering with us, and across the entire Olympia community who have shown tremendous support.
And it is through this intense work we have been able to develop a close personal relationship with our guests, and we have come to care for them deeply. Through this act of Sanctuary we have been able to positively affect change in the life of two people, and put a human face on a political issue, hopefully inspiring change and further action.
I recognize that in serving as a Sanctuary congregation there is a difference in power and privilege between us who are offering Sanctuary and our guest seeking it. Indeed, we are very mindful that we are using our power and privilege to help another, to use our standing and resources to protect a family, to provide for their needs, to affect a change for the better in their lives. (I think of the “Righteous Gentiles” who hid, sheltered, and provided for Jews in Europe to avoid deportation and death.) With this comes the humility and sensitivity that must come from recognizing identity and difference.
At the same time offering sanctuary is an act of partnership, of solidarity. We declared this from the beginning, when we formed the Greater South Sound Faith Network for Immigrant and Refugee Support, a coalition of congregations who provide mutual aid for faith communities offering physical sanctuary. In our founding statement we wrote, “We assert that supporting people in sanctuary is not an act of charity. It is a partnership of equals acting in solidarity. We will always remember that sanctuary is not something that we do for our undocumented neighbors; it is something we do with them.”
We remember that we are providing the space and infrastructure for sanctuary, the decision to be in sanctuary is our guest’s alone.
In the Torah this week Abraham charges his servant to find a mate for his son Isaac, so that the covenant can continue through his line. He sends his servant from Canaan back to Abraham’s ancestral home, and there the servant discovers Rebekah. Then in preparing to return to Abraham, we read in the text,
When they arose next morning, [the servant] said, “Give me leave to go to my master.” But her brother and her mother said, “Let the maiden remain with us some ten days; then you may go.” He said to them, “Do not delay me, now that God has made my errand successful. Give me leave that I may go to my master.” And they said, “Let us call the girl and ask for her reply.” They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will.” So they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. (Genesis 24:54-59)
In a text that tends to silence women’s voices, we have an example of agency and consent. Rebekah consents to go with Abraham’s servant, and only then does she go. It was her choice that determined her future.
Our guest too made a choice, a choice to enter Sanctuary as the best way forward for her and her family. I can only imagine what went into that decision and how hard it must have been.
By offering Sanctuary, we honor her choice and commit to do what we can to live up to it. We stand in solidarity with her and with the many many others who have had to make similar choices, in the face of injustices, to do what they can to create a better future for themselves and for all people.