[UPDATE Dec 2, 2015: I heard back from the governor and, in a fit of pique, replied honestly; scroll to the bottom for details. ]
Gentiles, of course, are welcome to join in, but I'm especially talking to my Semitic brothers and sisters here, since this is very much a "because of what He did for me when I was a slave in Egypt" situation.
Many of our governors are being the proverbial "sack of dicks" about taking in Syrian refugees fleeing the violence of ISIS. It's time for us to write letters--as Jews--urging them to reconsider.
Why us? To my mind, it's especially important for Jews to voice our support of Syrian refugees because the exact same "national security" justifications (and concern trolling) being used to halt their entry were used to sharply curtail Jewish immigration in the 1930s and '40s (example). Today, I think it is safe to say that basically *everyone* finds the idea of Jewish refugees operating as Nazi agents and saboteurs absolutely laughable, nonetheless this very "concern" kept tens of thousands of Jews locked up in Europe, and effectively ushered them to the gas (Anne Frank among them).
It'd be awful nice if we could limit ourselves to making tragic mistakes just once.
So, here's a draft of the letter I just sent to my governor. Please feel free to borrow from it as you will, and share it as broadly as you like.
November 20, 2013
Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Dear Governor Snyder,
I'm writing as a Michigan Jew urging you to reconsider your position: Please welcome Syrian refugees to our state. I know that many of my co-religionists are sending you notes very similar to this one. We want to show our children that our state and nation can live up to the ideals taught in our schools, that this continues to be a nation defined by diversity, acceptance, and opportunity—one that arrises out of many to be unified as one. As Jews, we acutely feel for our Syrian brothers and sisters, fleeing circumstances as dire and world changing as those our own relatives fled so recently. As Jews and Americans, we want to set a better example than that of previous generations, whose fearful inaction lead to the deaths of the many thousand Jewish asylum seekers that our nation turned away.
The diversity of Michigan is exceptional, rich with agrarian traditions, vibrant and diverse Jewish and immigrant communities, a storied hotbed of African-American creativity and American industry. Michigan is home to America’s largest population of people of Middle Eastern descent—Muslim and Christian alike. Many were persecuted in their homelands, came here fleeing violence, and have formed the cornerstones of our state.
As Jews, we are especially aware of what it means to be a minority that is both persecuted and feared. Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents owe their lives to America's open doors. Many of our families lost members who were not able to find sanctuary here when those doors slammed shut. When we see Syrian parents taking their children on dangerous journeys in unsafe conditions, sure that anything is better than what they are leaving behind, we see our own story—an emphatically American story.
This week, for a homework assignment, my nine-year-old son asked me about how and why our family came to the United States. It's not an especially pleasant story: My Ukrainian grandfather was orphaned when his mother died of consumption and his father, a miller, was murdered during a pogrom. Relatives pinned a note to his jacket with a Detroit address, and sent him to be raised by his sister. But while I was telling him all this, it suddenly dawned on me: My son is the first member of my family not to experience anti-Semitism at first hand. I was six the first time that I was bullied by children and singled out by adults for being a Jew. By the time I was nine I knew about the Holocaust not just from textbooks, but from the stories of my aunt, my friends' grandparents, my teachers at Sunday school, and from anonymous vandalism, my peers' mocking jeers, and the vitriol of White Supremacists on TV and in public office.
We live in a truly remarkable time, and I'm often stunned by our progress. Now it's time for us to progress further.
As humans, we have a moral duty to help the helpless. As Americans, we are honor bond to make good on the promises inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. As Jews, we are obliged to work to mend what's broken.
Please reconsider your statements and positions. We urge you to be strong in bending the arc of Michigan's history toward justice; keep our home ever a place of opportunity, growth, and acceptance.
David Erik Nelson . . .
On the day after Thanksgiving I heard back from the governor's office:
Thank you for your recent email sent to Governor Rick Snyder regarding Syrian refugees and immigration to Michigan. The Governor has asked me to respond on his behalf. He believes it is important that you are heard and appreciates the time you took to comment.
Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigrants. With that in mind, the governor’s first priority is protecting the safety of all Michigan’s residents.
In light of the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Gov. Snyder has directed the state to temporarily suspend efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan until the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security complete a full and thorough review of security clearances and procedures. These steps serve as a precautionary action, the governor stresses the importance of recognizing these horrific acts committed by a select few are not a representation of the beliefs and peaceful nature of the broader Middle Eastern population in Michigan, or elsewhere.
In addition, Governor Snyder sends condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those affected by the terror attacks in Paris and throughout the world. There will be tough times ahead for the people of France and Lebanon and they remain in his thoughts and prayers.
Again, thank you, for taking the time to share your concerns with our office. Please let me know if I can be of assistance in any State of Michigan related issue.
Executive Office of the Governor, Rick Snyder
This is a pretty bullshitty copy-n-paste—shit, it isn't even addressed to me—and I'm cranky with a headcold, so here's the reply I sent them:
Governor Snyder and Ms. Stoken,
With all due respect, your response is absurdly facile. To the best of our knowledge, most of the Paris attackers were French or Belgian citizens, not Syrians. Statistically speaking, more terrorist acts on US soil are committed by North Carolinians than Syrians (consider: http://goo.gl/w1VmDl )
Meanwhile, Michigan has a *very* robust, established, and patriotic Syrian community—if anything, we are the *most suitable* home for questionable immigrants, as there are strong ties between the community and the government. Michiganders of Syrian descent are obviously highly motivated to help law enforcement identify and track down ne’erdowells.
Finally, this sort of "national security" concern trolling has *consistently* been used in the US to turn a blind eye to the needs of refugees. Most poignant—to me and other Jews—would be something like this: https://goo.gl/Wu2cc8 I think we can safely say that, today, basically *everyone* finds the idea of Jewish refugees operating as Nazi agents and saboteurs absolutely laughable—nonetheless this very "concern" kept tens of thousands of Jews locked up in Europe, and effectively ushered them to the gas (Anne Frank among them: http://goo.gl/LDILSI )
I appreciate that you appreciate me writing to etc., etc.—but please, all of us have short time on this earth: Don’t bother to reply unless that reply is substantive and demonstrates that you’re actually hearing what constituents like me are saying. The right thing to do is so plainly obvious here, I simply can’t conceive of honest and intelligent people seeing it differently. It isn’t my job to convince you to do the right thing; it’s your job to suitably explain why you are refusing to do so.
Thank you for your time and (I hope) consideration.
All for the Best,
David Erik Nelson . . .
Once again, if you should need them, my words here are yours to use. Enjoy!