Today is February 23, 2020; the
ַב״ה February 14, 2020
Shabbat Shalom. This week, I had started to write my message about the Ten Commandments. Moses receives the Commandments this week. The beautiful recital of the commandments dictates that we receive this message, standing as a congregation, much as the children of Israel did at the foot of Mount Sinai. This is a joyous event, and a time to celebrate.
But I need to talk about another matter this week – a matter that is tearing at my heart. You know that I took on this position just last summer. You also know that I was determined from the beginning never to take a political position from the bimah, but rather to take the long view of our world, not 4 years or 8 years, but to look at the world through a 3,000-year-old lens. I have made a point to looking for things in our society that are joyous, upbeat, positive, always looking at the glass as half-full.
But something is happening now that we as Jews cannot ignore, that we cannot gloss over, that we cannot sweep away and bury under a pile of optimism.
I am definitely not talking about endorsing one candidate or another, or one party or another. I am not taking a political position. But I feel it my duty to speak out for these people, on behalf of the Jewish community.
This week our State Department has announced that they are negotiating with to PAY the government of Laos to begin taking back to Laos many of those Hmong refugees who sought asylum in our country as long ago as the 1970s. Among these are the many thousands of Hmong refugees – perhaps up to 5,000 or more) who helped our American servicemen and women as friends and Allies during the Vietnam war era.
Because of their service to America, these Hmong people were persecuted and frequently tortured or killed by the government of Laos after the war. Reports of human rights violations against the Hmong in Laos, including killings and imprisonments, convinced the Hmong that they no longer had a home to return to in Laos.
Most were able to escape to refugee camps in Thailand. Between the 80s and early 2000s, 90% of those refugees were ultimately resettled in the U.S., with the rest going to Canada, France and other countries. The largest populations of Hmong-American citizens live in California (87,000), Minnesota (64,000), Wisconsin (47,000), and a few other states. The Thailand camps closed over the past 10 years.
The people our government is planning to deport are not the 2nd and 3rd generation of Hmong-Americans. The Hmong are hard-working, tax-paying, proud Americans. They are judges, lawyers, business owners, state legislators. These early refugees are the parents and grandparents, the original Hmong people who served America.
Many people – especially from Central America – have recently sought asylum here to escape persecution and violence, and they have been turned away from our gates, often with their families torn asunder.
As Jews, we are commanded:
וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Exodus 22:20
וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:19
Friends, as Jews, whose brothers and sisters were turned away from our borders when they needed us the most, we must speak out and show our support for the Hmong who live with us here in our great city on the Mississippi and in our region. They are not strangers and outsiders, they are our friends and neighbors.
I beseech all of us to look for ways to help our fellow Hmong citizens, whose families may be torn apart by such heartless deportations.