Rabbi and nun advocate for justice at the border

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz and Sister Norma Pimentel, both advocates for immigrants, spoke about border control at Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, and shared stories of how immigrants have impacted their lives.

Yanklowitz is the founder of Arizona Jews for Justice. Pimentel is the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and a member of the Missionaries of Jesus. About 120 people attended the Oct. 30, 2019 event in Glendale, sponsored by the Catholic Jewish Conference, a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation; the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis.

In 2014, Pimentel was given permission to visit a detention center. What she saw were only children; some even 5-years-old. They were packed into cells for several weeks. One child came to Pimentel and said, “Please get me out of here, my mom is here.”

Pimentel responded, “If you came with your mom, you will go out today, I promise.” She immediately told an officer about this situation and he just stared at her, she said.

That evening, the mother and child walked into Pimentel’s humanitarian center and the little boy ran straight towards her with the biggest hug, not letting go. “This is an experience that grounded me for life,” she said.

The rabbi and sister talked about how asylum seekers need assistance.

“Once you decide you want to do something, I promise you will find way more than is possible. For example, volunteer, donate and vote,” Yanklowitz said. But most importantly, “do who you are: your passion, purpose and power.”

“It starts by seeing. By actually encountering the other person and having the opportunity to be present for them. That cannot replace anything else. Through that encounter, you come to a realization there is something about you that connects with the other,” Pimentel said.

Yanklowitz then shared a profound encounter that occurred on Shabbat when he and his family had a homestay. The woman in the family was a young mother who was just released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She and her 2-year-old daughter were staying in Yanklowitz’s guest room that night. Yanklowitz tried desperately to communicate with hand gestures, for the two spoke Spanish. It was quite awkward, he recalled.

After a few hours, he looked down the hallway and saw his daughter playing with her daughter; laughing and hugging in a way that showed there was no barrier. “That moment shook my presumptions in so many ways of seeing how children can be our teachers,” Yanklowitz said.

Politics was brought up by an attendee during audience questions at the end of the program. According to Yanklowitz, we must start with G-d to get beyond politics and see humanity.  “It’s not from prayer, but seeing G-d within every human being,” Yanklowitz said.

“Before they are immigrants, they are humans. We must not sabotage that, because that is what politics is trying to do us,” Pimentel said.

To learn more about how you can help assist asylum seekers, visit ArizonaJewsforJustice.org or contact VolunteerCoordinator@cdob.org.