Remarks delivered at the Berkeley City Council meeting, Tuesday, January 28, 2020
by Rabbi David J. Cooper
I am Rabbi David J. Cooper, I’ve lived in Berkeley for 25 years, and I am emeritus at Kehilla Community Synagogue long active in the sanctuary movement.
Proverbs 29 says that “Without a vision, the people perish.” The author of that proverb was not talking about the physical ability to see. They were talking about having a set of values, and then acting in accord with those values. Should we proceed as a society without our principles intact, we will end up creating a society contrary to everything that we believe is sacred. This does not happen all at once; it happens one small step at a time until our fate is sealed.
The New Border Vision says that we must stop this drift to the demeaning practices of xenophobia, of intolerance, of a willingness to classify some people as unworthy of human dignity. We must never believe that it is okay to systematically separate families, to incarcerate people fleeing oppression, and to turn away people pleading for asylum and then make them suffer for asking to be kept safe. If we can allow ourselves to believe all this, then that is what we call in Yiddish a “shandeh,” a disgrace of epic proportions.
In the Jewish tradition, the Torah redundantly demands that society must welcome the outsider who seeks to come into that society. More than 36 times the Torah specifies that such immigrants must be treated the same as citizens of the land and that—given their vulnerability—their needs must be provided for.
Every step that is taken against human dignity must be met by a response. If we stand idly by in the face of oppression, then people perish, not just metaphorically but physically. People are dying because of the xenophobic priorities of ICE, and Customs and Border Protection.
Our city of Berkeley is famous for our inclusivity and our progressive vision.
If we cannot stand up to these attacks on human dignity and say “No!” then who can?
If not us, then who?
And if not now, when?