Immigrant Traditions

What do the Jewish and Latino communities share? Everything


You shall not oppress the stranger. You should understand the heart of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

—Exodus 23

People often ask why Jews, generally speaking, seem so simpatico to the plight of the Latino community. As a kid growing up in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, I never thought much about it. Back then, kids didn’t think a lot about race and religion.

About 18 months ago, the Sonoma County Committee for Immigrant Rights contacted the Social Action Committee of Congregation Shomrei Torah, the reform synagogue in Santa Rosa. They asked if we, as part of the faith-based community, would host an education forum to hear some of the stories caused by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in homes and workplaces threatening the basic rights of many in the Latino community.

More than 125 people turned out to hear some of those stories. And they were truly heartbreaking. Young men stopped for no apparent reason only to be found undocumented and put in jail for weeks or more, and then sent back to Mexico. Doors banged upon in the middle of the night to yank women out of their homes and return them to Mexico, leaving young children behind. These were sons, husbands, daughter, wives, fiancées abruptly pulled apart from their families. The sad beat went on.

Some time after the forum, 35 members of Shomrei Torah walked with the Latino community in the annual May 1 International Workers’ Rights Day march and rally in Santa Rosa. Leading the way under the Shomrei Torah banner was Rabbi George Gittleman, who thought enough of the event and its intent to keep his twin 12-year-old kids, Levi and Sophie, out of school to march.

Why do Jews feel this affinity, this need to support the Latino community?

The common bond is that the Jewish community is heir to and bearer of an immigrant tradition going back almost 2,000 years. The Jewish people migrated from place to place for various reasons. At times, we were economic immigrants escaping poverty. At times, we were political refugees escaping oppression and death. This history lays a claim on us. We know that borders can mean life or death. Our history commands us to recognize the humanity of immigrants and the underlying reasons for their migration.

As we Jews remembered recently again at the celebration of Passover, the Bible is basically the story of migrations. Our national identity is forged from Abraham’s immigration to Canaan to Jacob’s sons’ journey to Egypt to the Exodus and re-immigration to the land of Israel, and the forced emigrations into exile.

Our tradition informs our vision of what constitutes a just and compassionate America, one that reflects the best of what we are and what we can be as a country. As we respond to the challenge of reforming our immigration policies, we must not succumb to the false solutions of nativism and scapegoating, but acknowledge the underlying economic and social causes of the immigration phenomenon and seek a comprehensive, humane solution.

Jews and Latinos can find other common bonds similar to other members of minority groups whether it is religion, racism, gender, etc. It is about being the stranger in a strange land, being “the other,” the different one.


On Friday, the Committee for Immigrant Rights is again sponsoring the annual Sonoma County Annual Workers Day march. Once again, Shomrei Torah will join our friends in the Latino community. We invite all of Sonoma County to join us and the Latino community in the symbolic walk for freedom. This is the 21st century. There can be an end to these painful unwarranted ICE raids. Where is the humanity? Are we not all just the same in “God’s eyes”?

Larry Carlin is the co-chair of the Social Action Committee for the Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa. The May 1 march is scheduled to begin at 3pm at 665 Sebastopol Road, near Dutton, in Roseland at the old Albertson’s; it arrives 4:30pm in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square.

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