As thousands continued to flee civil war in Syria, the Tucson Board of Rabbis sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey last month asking him to reverse his stand on barring refugees from entering Arizona. Citing the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 by terrorists from the Islamic State, or ISIS, Ducey on Nov. 16 had called for an immediate halt to refugee placement in Arizona, joining more than 30 other governors who called on the federal government to stop refugee immigration.
The Board of Rabbis statement calls for “the compassionate welcoming of substantial numbers of Syrian refugees” and asks political and religious leaders “to eschew language that demonizes our Muslim neighbors, recognizing all terror as its own cult of hate.”
In addition to this letter, Rabbis Samuel Cohon and Rabbi Batsheva Appel of Temple Emanu-El and Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash were among more than 1,000 rabbis nationwide who signed a letter in support of welcoming refugees, delivered by HIAS to all members of Congress on Dec. 2. HIAS is a Jewish nonprofit organization that helps to rescue, support and advocate for refugees from around the world.
“I think it’s a central Jewish mitzvah to protect refugees,” Cohon told the Arizona Jewish Post, noting that last week Jews began reading from Shemot, the first Torah portion in the book of Exodus. “It’s clear that our people have always been refugees and we understand what it is better than anyone who’s ever lived on this earth, what it is to be forced to flee violence, persecution, destruction.
“One of the really great, central ideas of America has been to become the haven for the ‘tempest-tossed,’” says Cohon, referencing the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and mentioned in the Board of Rabbis statement. “We need not only to respect that but protect that right [of those fleeing persecution to immigrate]. It’s what has made our country great.”
The Board of Rabbis, says Cohon, was careful in its statement “to respect the American government’s requirement to do proper background checks, to follow its own security procedures. We not only respect that, we applaud that. But we also know that people admitted under refugee status have almost never proven to be any kind of security risk in America.”
For his own part, Cohon adds that “the truth is that Christians in the Middle East have been persecuted in extraordinary, really quite terrible ways by ISIS and other groups. I think that we Jews should speak out on this. Many of these refugees are Syrian Christians, which nobody is talking about.”
Arizona Public Media and other local news outlets interviewed Cohon about the letters.
The text of the HIAS letter can be found at hias.org/1000rabbis. Rabbis can add their names at hias.org/national-rabbinic-letter-support-welcoming-refugees.