Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I am standing barefoot on a slippery rock, attempting to cross Hurricane Falls at the bottom of Tallulah Gorge.
I stretch my left foot as far down as I can to reach a narrow ledge on the side of the rock, while my right foot is wedged against an adjacent boulder that stands between me and the water.
I know what I need to do. I need to remove my right foot from the crag, turn my body 180 degrees, and, facing backward, slide my right foot toward the narrow ledge. My friend holds my hands firmly against the top edge of the rock. I know she won’t let me fall.
Nevertheless, I’m unable to move. I recognize that my mental state—agitation—has caused my momentary paralysis. I realize I’m holding my breath.
Laughing, I acknowledge I’m trapped by my own mind and liberate myself from this self-imposed confinement. I backtrack, finding a wider, flat rock, where I sit and dip my feet into the water.
I return to this moment of agitated paralysis many times during the next two weeks, every time I’m confronted with another headline about the detention of migrants at the border. I feel trapped. There is nothing I can do to free them and nothing I want to do besides scream, but I’m so overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness I can’t summon the words to protest.
How futile is speech against a cruel government that has confined human beings in unsanitary, overcrowded prisons, in less humane conditions than abandoned pets in animal shelters? What words will convey my horror at seeing children separated from their parents, who in desperation risked their lives to seek safety and freedom from violence only to find no refuge here?
I try to return to the place of serenity, the wide, flat rock where I sit to cool off and catch my breath. I know that if I can remove myself from the narrow place of anguish, I can discern what I need to do and find the strength to do it. I remember the words of the psalmist, “God brought me to the wide open space, rescued me because God desires my freedom.” (Psalm 18:20)
It is not God who rescues me but a friend I met through the New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta, who encourages me both to speak and to be silent: to compose a prayer for the Lights for Liberty Vigil to End Human Detention Camps and to return to immigration court later this month, to accompany asylum seekers at their hearings. She reminds me that I’m able to leverage my freedom as a citizen of this nation to help those seeking refuge here.
God desires our freedom so we can pursue justice and kindness, walk humbly on this earth, and reflect the light of the divine in every human being. This is what we must do to ensure our safe passage from the narrow straits to the wide open space.