I am pained and shamed by the silence. I have been waiting daily to receive via e-mail a statement from the Orthodox Union and/or the Rabbinical Council of America and/or the International Rabbinic Fellowship regarding the humanitarian crisis at juvenile detention centers along sections of the southern border of this country. Pictures and live reports have been shared with the American public by many credible sources, and my professional and collegial community has not had anything formal or official to say. I do not understand. They rail and rally against anti-semitism as they should, and they issue statements of praise for our government and its leaders when they acts in accord with what we believe is in our communal best interest; but our national organizations are nowhere to be found in defense of America’s fundamental values and morals.
Let me be clear in what I feel. I do not consider the conditions at the juvenile detention centers to be a political issue, but I hold the political establishment responsible for its failure to act. Most working Americans will get a one-day vacation for Independence Day and the luckier will get four-day long vacation weekend. Congress, on the other hand, adjourned near the end of June and will be away from their committee rooms and chambers for much more than a long weekend.
In a few weeks, on the Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av, I will be privileged to chant the haftorah of Shabbat Chazone, lifted from the opening chapter of the Book of Isaiah. In that rebuke of our First Temple era Israelite ancestors, Isaiah questioned the worth and value of sacrifices on Temple altars when the fundamental underpinnings of their Torah-based society were being ignored if not – in the eyes of the prophet – abandoned. Isaiah proclaimed (1:17), “Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice. Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan. Defend the cause of the widow”.
Earlier than Isaiah were the mitzvot taught by Moses who used the experiences in Egypt to teach the first generation of free Bnai Yisrael. Moses believed in a communal embrace of love for the stranger, literally because of what they, our ancestors, were compelled to endure as strangers in a land that was not theirs. Moses claimed that God hears the cry of the oppressed, and that Heaven is counting upon every future generation of Bnai Yisrael to respond to that cry in ways that mitigate the suffering.
In a later prophecy, one of that last of all the recorded prophecies, Micah spoke words that have been echoed by all the religions that have been modeled on ours (6:8), “He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you; only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God”.
I wish I knew why the national organizations that I look to for leadership have not yet chosen to engage with this issue. I only know that I am pained by what I have seen – not on one network, but on all of them. I am reminded of my father who did not see his parents for more than two years, who was surreptitiously whisked out of World War II Germany to be raised in youth hostels in Holland and England; and whose reunification with his parents and surviving sister became possible only because of courageous leadership and legislation in Washington, DC. My father, as my congregation knows, was born in post World War I Germany; and he died a proud and patriotic American who served out the first two years of his citizenship as a sailor in the United States Navy during the last years of World War II, serving aboard the USS Saratoga in the South Pacific.
I wonder incredulously why Congress has not stayed in Washington, taken a shorter vacation to celebrate Independence Day, and worked more on solving a crisis worthy of their focused nonpartisan attention. I am truly beyond words trying to fathom why not one of my national organizations has yet issued a statement that I could proudly share with my congregation. I know that the problem is complex. I know that it is conundrum imposed upon us. I know that any solution will be very expensive; and I know that finding a national consensus will not be easy.
I also know that God called upon the prophets to remind our ancestors of what it meant to be a covenanted people. Maybe God is now expecting the spiritual leaders of today to echo and reflect the courage of the leaders who came before us. I hope you agree; and when an opportunity presents itself to make matters better, please consider being a voice in finding a solution.