The Cries of a Child

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, July 3, 2018

Dear Fellow Solelniks,

As a community, we teach and uphold the values of Torah, the ethical and moral teachings of our heritage. Every morning as we pray the words of our Siddur (prayerbook) we read these words from Mishnah Peah 1:1 – Elu Devarim – These are the mitzvot (commandments) which have no limit…. Among these mitzvot we are called to: honour father and mother, to perform acts of love and kindness, to welcome the stranger…And we are taught that the study of Torah encompasses the mitzvot (commandments) that we engage in because it leads to doing God’s work in the world. This teaching reminds us that each and every day that our faith calls us to take responsibility, to act on our moral and ethical obligations.

In response to widespread reported mistreatment of minors detained by U.S. border patrol and customs agents, including the separation of children from their parents, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, has issued this statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the wider Reform Movement. In part, it reads:

“The reported physical mistreatment of minors, including pregnant teens and those who have recently given birth, as well as the separation of children as young as 18 months old from their parents, is horrific.

Our Jewish tradition calls on us to welcome the stranger, to treat immigrants fairly, and to empathize with the widow, the stranger, and the orphan because we ourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. The inhumane treatment of migrant children and parents is a clear indication that the U.S. government has fallen far short of this standard. We all need to do better, lest this shameful chapter in our nation’s history come to define our future.

The practice of separating migrant children from their parents must stop.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that the practice of separating children from their parents can cause the children “irreparable harm.” While the President has now signed an executive order to end family separation, there have been no plans made to reunite children already separated and families may not see each other for weeks or months. In addition, families held together may still suffer similar trauma due to the detention conditions.

Our faith forbids us from remaining silent in the face of immorality.

Many of you have reached out to me asking what we in Canada can do at this time to support these children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S Border and are being held in detention facilities or placed in foster care far from their parents.

How to provide tangible support to detainees and separated families:

  • Temple Emanuel of McAllen, Texas is accepting donations via Paypal or by check (send to 4300 Chai St., McAllen, TX 78504). Please note “Refugees” on the check memo line and they will ensure the money goes towards supporting families facing criminal prosecution on the southern US border. Please include information regarding how Temple Emanuel can contact you with thanks.
  • Support Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Respite Center through their GoFundMe page.
  • Support Undies for Everyone believes that every child deserves the dignity of clean underwear. Please support us as we send 5,000 pairs of kids’ underwear in response to the current crisis at our southern border. We will be sending underwear to the Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which provides a safe place for refugees and asylum-seekers at the border to rest, have a warm meal, and receive the necessary hygiene supplies to meet their basic human needs.

Speak out against injustice

Send email messages to the companies profiting from the child detention centres protesting their actions.

Write letters in support of those who are doing the hard work of defending these children and upholding their rights to be reunited with their families

  • HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has been helping refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
  • KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) has a mission to ensure that no child appears in immigration court without high-quality representation
  • The Innovation Law Lab was founded in 2014 in response to the mass detention of immigrant women and children, primarily entering the United States from Central America and seeking asylum. They now do work in family and adult detention centers and immigration courts throughout the country. Visit
  • Human Rights First matches asylum-seekers who need help and lawyers who can represent them on a pro bono basis in specific locations. They provide mentoring, training, and guidance throughout the representation to ensure that pro bono lawyers get the support they need to provide the highest quality legal representation to clients seeking asylum. Through the Refugee Representation program at Human Rights First, volunteer lawyers have the unique opportunity to change the lives of refugees by helping them gain asylum in the United States.

One more thing: while we as adults are feeling extremely unsettled by what we are seeing and reading in the news, be aware that in this age of 24- hour news reporting and social media, our children and teens are most likely seeing these same news stories. These are very complex issues to discuss with our kids because as parents we teach them to be welcoming and accepting of everyone. We also teach them that they should follow the rules. It is very hard to explain why these migrant children are not being welcomed, and also why it is ok for adults, whom they may be seeing standing up in protests, to question and sometimes break the laws. I am available, as is Arliene Botnick, our Director of Education, to help you figure out the best way to approach and respond to challenging topics with your children.

This story from our tradition guides us: nothing takes moral precedence over the suffering of a child, and those cries must wake us to action.: The young Rabbi DovBer of Lubovitch was a young father, living downstairs from his own father, the Rebbe Schneur Zalman. Both father and grandfather were deep in their work, studying late into the night in each of their apartments, when Rabbi DovBer’s baby fell from the crib and began to wail. Immersed in work, the young rabbi was oblivious to the wailing, yet the older Rebbe jumped from his desk upstairs, and ran to his son’s apartment, to lift and soothe his grandchild back to sleep. DovBer remained oblivious, glued to his work. Later, Rebbe Scheur Zalman chastised his son: “No matter how important or sacred your work, you must never fail to respond to the cries of a child.”


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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