“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Martin Luther King Jr., inspired by Theodore Parker.
Those hopeful words of Dr. King are the vision behind Bend the Arc, a national organization dedicated to providing American Jews with an organizational vehicle to work toward an inclusive society, supporting people across race, class, gender and faith.
Recently several of us organized the Bend the Arc Riverdale Task Force, which will work with other New York state Bend the Arc chapters on passage in Albany of the New York State Dream Act, and in conjunction with other progressive groups such as Indivisible, to hold members of Congress accountable for the Trump agenda.
American Jews in particular have a unique strategic role in standing against efforts to target immigrants, Muslims, women, people of color, the poor, and democracy itself.
Our recent actions have been quite successful. Forty local residents gathered in the sukkah of the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 8, to renew our connections as a community to the immigrant populations endangered by the policies of the Trump administration. As a result of these policies, the federal government — and in particular, ICE, its immigration enforcement arm — are waging a broad campaign of fear designed to alienate and criminalize immigrants, and make them feel as if they are not wanted in their own communities.
The rhetoric and actions of President Trump are also reflected in the Muslim ban and his administration’s policy of virtually shutting America’s door to refugees who regrettably have no choice other than to flee their countries of origin to save their lives.
The president has moved to end the federal DACA program, which allows young people brought to this country as undocumented immigrants as children (also known as “Dreamers”) to attend college and work in this country.
In the sukkah, we engaged in text study with Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn of Congregation Tehillah, who explained the relevance of meeting in a temporary shelter, a sukkah, marking the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Like immigrants today — especially the undocumented seeking security — the ancient Hebrews sought security in these impermanent huts as a refuge in the wilderness.
We sang “Shalom, salaam, let there be peace,” and we noted through readings the parallels between the Dreams and earlier immigrants to our country, and those who escaped the Holocaust.
We heard Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz explain that the New York State Dream Act, which allows undocumented students to obtain tuition assistance, has passed the state Assembly, but not the state senate. We were moved by hearing from two New York City educators about the family and personal stresses their Dreamer students face as a result of their fear of being deported.
Finally, we learned about steps we can take right now to voice our solidarity with immigrants, including calling U.S. Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand in support of the federal DREAM Act.
We took additional action the very next evening, as nine of us met to make phone calls to a suburban Chicago House district, asking those voters to call their congressman and voice their support for the DREAM Act.
We are beginning our work to hold members of Congress accountable in Congressional District 19 by knocking on doors in Ellenville in advance of a closely contested legislative election, to protect the priorities of working families, and to ensure that our elected officials are putting our families and health care first.
The next Bend the Arc Riverdale task force meeting is on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m., at The Riverdale Y. If you are interested in joining us, or learning more about Bend the Arc, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.