Yesterday afternoon I sent a note to you-all about going in groups to US Senators & Representatives, bringing them packets of soap and toothpaste and toothbrushes, and demanding that they carry them IN PERSON to the prisons where refugee children are being held in medically dangerous unsanitary cages -- demanding THEY go because we would not be allowed in but the political pressure of their going would be important, whether or not they were admitted.
In the rush of getting the idea out, I aimed at the idea itself, in the fewest possible words to make clear the what-to-do, without any explanation of where or why to me it seems so valuable or how or by whom it began – leaving all that to the next step. In fact, I think how it emerged was important. It was put forward by Rev. Jean Erb, one of the beloved participants in P’nai Or of Philadelphia’s Torah conversation group that meets every Shabbos before davening.
The Torah conversation began with the question of how fear or caution inhibits us from taking action that feels right, connected with the Torah story of the spies or scouts whom Moshe sent to scout out the land of Canaan, and how their report scared off the People of Israel from moving forward. Out of that focus on when, how, and with good wisdom or not we may let fear or caution -- a positive or a negative word for what may be the same response – to shape our actions came Jean Erb’s thought about how to have an effect on the immediate issue of the concentration camps while doing so in ways that point to the deeper illness.
I quoted Howard Zinn as having said that every once in a while, a lightning flash lights up the truth of the world we live in. The lightening flash lasts only for an instant, but if we are alert enough we can help ourselves and others stay awake to the fuller truth that was visible in that moment. The kids-in-cages lightening flash can reveal fuller truths about our government and our society. The lightening flash can show us, remind us, who holds power in and defines the shape of our society – and where to aim change.
What seemed and seems to me brilliant about Jean Erb’s proposal is that it connects the simplest acts of face-to-face love and caring -- toothpaste, for God’s sake!! -- with the need to challenge those in power to act -- Justice, for God’s sake!
Indeed, what came to my mind as I thought about her proposal was the beginning of Psalm 101 -- “Chesed u’mishpat ashira, l’cha YHWH azamaira -- Of Love and Justice I will sing; To you, Breath of Life, I’ll sing praises.” --- a song by Rabbi David Shneyer that in 1971 was the first song of Jewish renewal that I learned. (David sang “Adonai,” not “Breath of Life.”)
Love AND Justice. And the sacred Breath of Life, the Holy One.
So part of the wisdom that rose up in and from Jean Erb was, I think, the outcome of the process itself, and how we can engage with Torah in such ways as to take our own lives into it, and invite it into our own lives.
Having said all that, let me go back to the proposal:
Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk
Groups of people – ideally at least ten, a minyan, but not necessarily – get together for the following action:
Each member makes a small packet of sanitary, health-giving items for kids – toothpaste, soap, etc.
They agree on a time, and if possible make an appointment (if not, go anyway) , to visit the home-district office of each of their Senators and Member of the House of Representatives (regardless of party or previous position on the immigration issue). They intend to hand that Congressperson a bundle of these packets and demand that s/he take the packets IN PERSON to one of the children’s prisons and PERSONALLY give these items to the kids.
The group decides ahead of time whether all, none, or some will risk arrest by refusing o leave the office until they get a promise the Congressperson will do just that. They practice who will speak, how, etc. At least one of the group prepares to film what happens on a cell phone.
The group calls some local media to invite them to come along not as advocates but to cover the story.
The group does the action. Afterwards, it shares publicly what happened. It urges others to follow suit.
Okay. I urge that we actually begin the process.
Chesed u'mishpat ashira! -- Arthur