Give me your tired, your poor

02/16/2017

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These are the words of Emma Lazarus, engraved on the Statue of Liberty. She wrote the poem in response to anti-Semitic pogroms in 1881 that drove thousands of Ashkenazi Jews to flee the Russian Pale of Settlement and emigrate to America.

My great-grandparents fled another round of pogroms in Russia and Poland in 1905, seeking freedom and opportunity and a better life for their children. I am the descendant of immigrants who arrived in this country speaking no English and espousing what was a very foreign faith.

The core principle of that faith resonates and guides me today as I seek tikkun olam—to heal the world—in the best way I can: “You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This, in various forms, is the most repeated phrase in the Old Testament.

It is because I hold my family history, and these words, in my heart, that I am so deeply appalled at the immigration ban levied by the new administration. That’s why I feel compelled to talk about why and how we, as nonprofit leaders and American citizens, need to speak up and act on our principles.

If you are part of an organization that provides services for immigrants or refugees or those adversely affected by presidential executive orders, whether it be through art classes or counseling or food, you need to make your voice heard. Strong advocacy for sound and compassionate policies is something you can legally do as a nonprofit—though you cannot speak for or against a partisan political candidate, a designation that appears to apply to President Trump, who has already filed as a candidate for 2020. You should be working with your staff and board to be ready to respond quickly to help and support your clients. You should provide a safe place for your community for civil dialogue, education, inspiration, activism and connection.

Woody Allen said, “Mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

And Dr. Seuss wrote: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.”

And one last quote, which I return to over and over again for reassurance and strength, from Rabbi Tarfon Pirkei Avot: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” 

The gravity and extent of the task—of all the tasks we face right now—may seem overwhelming; it does for me. But we cannot give up. This is our country, this is our faith, these are our people. Now is the time.

 

Carol Friedman is a nonprofit consultant and founding executive director of the Dance Palace Community Center. She lives in Point Reyes Station.