They’re Coming to America

For several weeks now, I’ve maintained a careful silence in my 9th grade Jewish Literature classroom about the politics of immigration in our country today.

As we studied the book of Genesis, students discussed God’s promises to Abraham that he will flourish as a result of his migration; imagined Lot’s motivation for choosing to live in Sodom as he looked out on the lush Eden of the valley; noted Abraham’s self-described status of “resident alien” as he sought to establish an eternal resting place for Sarah in the land of Canaan.

Today, I raise my voice, having chosen my words with great care. I will not comment in class about the offensive remarks of presidential hopefuls. I dare not derail us from our mission to seek Jewish wisdom in our study of Torah that informs our lives and helps us grow as human beings. Instead, I choose to share the narrative of my Grandpa Harry’s immigration, as I recite seven stanzas over the Oberaargauer Brass Band’s rendition of “Coming to America.”

At the end of this week, students will present their final projects — acrostic poems of eulogy or tribute to important people in their lives — at our Siyyum, an end-of-the-semester celebration of learning, and Hanukkah party. Throughout months of journaling, writing personal midrash, dialogue in partnership and group discussion, we have added our voices to the collective wisdom of torah she’b’al peh, aptly translated as Conversational Torah by one of my teachers. We conclude this unit reading Psalm 34 and reciting Kaddish d’Rabbanan together.

My prayer is that we continue to find lessons in our Torah about how to live well, to seek peace and pursue it.

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