Welcome from Rabbi Lewis


The following are sermons and thoughts of Rabbi Lewis to her congregation. Please visit this section frequently to see what's new on her mind.

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Temple Menorah Rabbi's Weekly Message
Shabbat Beha’alotecha. Do Not March On.

"I was given only five minutes to say goodbye. My babies started crying when they found out we were going to be separated. In tears myself, I asked my boys to be brave, and I promised we would be together soon. I begged the woman who took my children to keep them together so they could at least have each other."

This was one of the stories told by columnist Nicholas Kristof this week when he reported about the thousands of immigrant families that are being separated at the United States border, often when they are coming here seeking asylum. This Salvadoran woman reported that while in El Salvador she was severely beaten in front of her family by a gang, and she then fled the country to save the lives of her children, ages 4 and 10.

She can't say for sure, but she has heard that her children might have been separated and sent to two different foster homes. "I am scared for my little boys," she cried.

And then there is Jocelyn, who was featured this week on ABC. Coming from Brazil, she was separated from her son in August, when they crossed into the United States in search of asylum. Jocelyn was taken into custody. All she knew about her son James was that he was taken away. Back in Brazil, domestic violence made life impossible for this mother and son. Now, they have been separated for 8 months and through the irregular communication with him and with the officials that are watching over his case is that James has been medicated in order to 'help with his nerves.'

Parents who commit the misdemeanor of crossing into the country illegally must serve a jail sentence — three days to two weeks of being apart, unable to move on with their journeys. Yet the extent of time that families are separated is still unknown. Hundreds of stories have been told now — children as young as toddlers, torn away from their parents, screaming, "Please don't take me away from my mommy!" This country, our country, is taking them away from their mommy. And their daddy. And their family. And their security. And their wellbeing. And their hopes for the better life their parents brought them here to find.

Amid the endless headlines flying across the newswire of late, it is this story that I simply cannot make sense out of. It is hardly a matter of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' Like many of your families' stories, my own grandfather came to this country as a child with his parents and siblings when they were fleeing the danger of the European pogroms — and he settled here and was safe and educated. He and his family were unimpeded in the journey they took to create the life they came here for - together.

My intention tonight is not to discuss immigration policy — we can do that at another time. No, my intention tonight is to consider for a moment the journeys of these human beings and to understand them in the context of our tradition, which is all about the journey that our ancestors took on their way to the Promised Land. My intention is to remind us that in Torah, life really is less about the destination than it is about the journey itself. And that road has always been one replete with pot holes, bumps and curves.

Among the ups and the downs of this week's Torah portion, we encounter Miriam and Aaron who criticize their brother Moses the woman he had married. "He married a Cushite, a dark-skinned woman!" God, unable to tolerate their disrespect to Moses, punishes them. Specifically, God punishes Miriam. "As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales!" While there are countless ways to make meaning out of this narrative, tonight, in light of the stories that are being told about migrant families being separated from one another, we would do well to learn from the way the community of Israelites responded to the bump in Miriam's road.

As would be expected for a person afflicted with a skin disease like Miriam's, Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days, until she was deemed pure once again, and ready to journey on with the group. "v'ha am lo nasa ad hay-asef Miryam," the Torah is clear, "And the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted."

The people did not take sides. They did not weigh in on any policy or action. Instead, they showed their solidarity with Miriam by waiting until she was reunited with them, where she belonged. You see, the Israelites who were on their way to the Promised Land, should not have, could not have and indeed, would not have been able to keep marching to their new life if their family was not together and complete.

So how can we expect this from people who are on their journeys today? Today, their potholes and bumps and curves seem insurmountable. A few weeks back, the American Academy of Pediatricians released a statement indicating that the road our ancestors took — of waiting for families to be reunited — was indeed the only moral, ethical and healthy one to take. "Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians, protecting and promoting children's health," they state. "In fact, highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child's brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress - known as toxic stress - can carry lifelong consequences for children."

The Israelites did not march on until their family was whole, cleared of toxic stress. Let us take a lesson from them and clear the toxic stress from the families in our midst so that we, too, would, could and should support these mothers, fathers and children so that when they are together, they too can march to their Promised Lands.