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Border justice tops Jewish History Museum agenda

Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center staff Bryan Davis, left, and Josie Shapiro, center, unfurl a new banner on the fence in front of the museum Aug. 12 while Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, right, looks on. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

Tucson’s Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center will launch a migrant justice initiative in conjunction with its new annual exhibition, “Asylum Seeking at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which opens in the Allen and Marianne Langer Contemporary Human Rights Gallery on Oct. 24.

As with past annual exhibits, programming, and space to share experiences and build community connections related to the exhibition theme, will be hosted throughout the year. “The new exhibition will have our most ambitious programmatic action to date,” says Bryan Davis, JHM executive director.

Davis looks to inspire community action. “There is an impression that the Jewish community is not doing much” to aid migrants passing through Tucson, he says. On the contrary, many agencies, synagogues, and individuals are doing a lot. “We will invite those agencies, synagogues, and Jews not affiliated with any agency that is working for migrant justice to participate and learn from each other, bear witness, listen, and learn. We’ll ask, ‘What would you like to see from the community to deepen our engagement.’”

Justice Stanley G. Feldman and his wife, Norma, the lead funders of this initiative, have given a $10,000 matching grant. Feldman, who has lived in Tucson most of his life, was an Arizona Supreme Court justice for two decades and chief justice for five years. “Judge Feldman is passionate about Jewish community action,” Davis says. Funds to match the grant already have been raised among community donors.

“I am the son of parents and grandparents who on both sides were refugees. If they had not come here I would not exist,” Feldman told the AJP. “Those who could not get here perished, due to the kind of policies now in effect. These are the core values of Judaism. If we don’t stand up to help give food and shelter for strangers in our land, who would? Who should
understand it better than Jews?

“I believe every Jewish organization should stand up and be counted in the need to help those fleeing for their lives.  It is not, as some members of our community claim, a political issue but an issue of humanity.”

The museum will host a full-day of learning on Oct. 24, to include a bus trip to the border and possible discussions with the Mexican consulate in Nogales. Davis looks to visit Operation Streamline, where people who cross illegally into the U.S. are arraigned in Federal court, and speak with people directly impacted by migration. The day will close with a visit to the museum exhibition and discussion on how to move work forward and elevate the work that others are doing, “how to collectively fill the gaps,” he says.

Davis referenced the recent Tucson visit by Jewish Council for Public Affairs (see related story, page 5). “JCPA is looking at the Tucson Jewish community as a landing space and guide to how to do this work. They are looking at us as a model community. We need to create a new structure to sustain for the future,” Davis told the AJP. “It will be a standing agenda item for the Jewish Community Relations Council. This response won’t be reduced over time. It will only grow.”