Bnai Keshet is a Jewish community founded in 1978, and at the same time a Synagogue. It defines itself as representative of the broader community: mature couples, singles, “traditional” Jewish families, interfaith families, and gay and lesbian Jews.
It is now renovating an apartment with the support of partners, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Montclair (UUCM), First Congregational Church, Faith in New Jersey and other local faith leaders. They intend to offer a family (or individual) at risk of deportation, physical shelter, safety, support, and time to seek a resolution. They call the effort the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance (MSA).
The Sanctuary Movement began in the 1980s when U.S. faith leaders organized to protect asylum seekers fleeing violence in Latin America. In mid-December, MSA held an interfaith gathering at Bnai Keshet, rededicating their sanctuary to Sanctuary.
On Bnai Keshet’s website, they explain the loving the stranger and protecting the vulnerable is the moral core of all the partners’ traditions. And that the Bible commands us to protect the stranger “at least 36 times.” “So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.” (Dt 10:19)
The pastors of UUCM wrote their support to “make it clear to all in the community that we understand our religious duty includes providing sanctuary to people upon whom certain sectors of our government and citizenry may try to single out for incarceration and removal.” As Pope Francis wrote: God is present in “the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door.”
The partners of MSA are fully aware that U.S. law does not protect undocumented immigrants who are given sanctuary. But, because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has so far avoided arresting immigrants on congregational property, they choose to publicly offer sanctuary in order to change hearts and minds. They say, “Tightening borders lets us imagine the U.S. can wall off the suffering in other places. We hope that supporting and collaborating publicly with immigrant neighbors and friends will strengthen the fabric of our society and ultimately, help change federal policy.”
MSA not only stranger with the apartment but asking support for the initiative is awakening the awareness that loving the stranger is the real support for a long-term guest seeking sanctuary. “Many of us – the word is addressed to immigrant Jewish – are living lives that are the fulfillment of our parents’ and grandparents’ risks and sacrifices to come to the United States. Our freedom, prosperity, safety and in many cases our existence – came about because a previous generation took the risk in a moment of uncertainty to come here. Maybe that is why so many of us are alarmed and concerned by immigrants being threatened with deportation.”
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO,
with consultative special status at UN