A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 3.19.21

As we get closer to the Festival of Freedom, the Festival of Border Crossing, I wanted to give you an update on the Acosta-Molina family. If you recall, I wrote about them a few weeks ago. They are a young Honduran family who have applied for asylum in the United States, and they came to our attention through former EMJC member Debbie Nathan, a journalist who now lives in Texas. Debbie reports on immigration issues at the border. The Acosta-Molina’s have been waiting on the other side of the border for around two years due to changes in US immigration policy – that’s where Debbie met them. She updated us on the situation this week, and things are going slower than expected. She writes: 

To our consternation, they remain at a (UNHCR) United Nations High Commission on Refugees-affiliated shelter in Ciudad Juarez, just across from the US at El Paso. The Biden administration had strongly implied as soon as the “Remain in Mexico” program was ended, the day Biden took office, that victims would be processed into the US in the order in which they had originally been enrolled in the program. Katy, Misael and the girls were among the very first people enrolled in Juarez, in April 2019. So we fully expected they’d be with us already, because processing for the 4000 people enrolled in Juarez began on February 26. However, it turns out that the UNHCR process is chaotic: they do not appear to have a method in place to prioritize people by date of entry, and the decisions about who gets called for processing are being made in Mexico City. It’s a mess.”

Still, she is hopeful that they will be “processed” very soon, possibly even this week. 

In the meantime,” she continues, “though they’re really frustrated, they are in a safe, cozy place with good food. Heat at night is a problem, but they have coats and blankets. The days here are getting nice and warm. We have no worries about their physical well being. I’ve been unable to visit, to bring the kids books or learning materials, because no outsiders are allowed entry due to Covid. I’ve been sending photos of children’s books (in Spanish) for Katy to use with the children. They’ve been telling their own stories after reading….”

It strikes me as quite a contrast: up here in Brooklyn, we have begun our Passover shopping, cleaning, and preparing. Our eyes are focused on seders, Zoom, family, synagogue services, egg matzah. In just a little over a week, we will sit down and tell the story of the Exodus. The Torah reminds us, annually, that God heeded the outcry of God’s people: “Yes, I am mindful of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them… and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land… the cry of the Israelites has reached Me…”

Misael, Katy, Nicol, and Madaì are living the reality that our ancestors experienced thousands of years ago: suffering, displacement, uncertainty, exposure to the elements, great personal risk. Not to push the point too much, but like the Israelites, they too are seeking a better life, in a place where there is the rule of law; where the society is based on a reliable set of moral values that form a foundation, at least, of predictable behavior; where their children don’t have to be afraid, and where they don’t have to be afraid for their children. They may not get all of this – so many Americans don’t – but they’d like a shot at it.

The Acosta-Molina family are a gift to us. And by the way, they know about us – in fact, hopefully by next week, we’ll be able to see a video in which this beautiful family greets all the good folks at EMJC, thanking us for our offer of help. And they are a timely gift, reminding us of the core values of Pesach – redemption, transformation, rebirth. As we continue with our own preparations this week, let’s keep in mind the lovely rabbinic teaching explaining the name of our springtime holiday: the rabbis “d’rash” that Pesach is actually two words – peh (mouth) and sach (speaks, converses, tells). Our mouths tell the story of our ancestors’ redemption from Egypt, when God brought them out of that place with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Let us, their descendants, stretch out our arms and help give Misael, Katy, Nicol, and Madaì a story to pass on to their family.

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.

Rabbi Sam Levine