Today, Donald Trump killed the dream. He sentenced nearly 1-million American children to exile. Their parents had the good sense to want a better life for them than what they could offer in their homelands. Except they had the misfortune of not waiting till they arrived in this country to birth those babies. That is the only difference between Citizen Dreamers and the DACA “deadbeats” whom Trump has consigned to exile.
What these parents did, the ambition and yearning for a better future that drove them here, that is the American Dream. Our own immigrant ancestors lived it . Mine came from a variety of eastern European Jewish communities: Hungary, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Austria. Of course, they came before 1924, when American Nativists made Hitler proud by shutting the Golden Doors to all eastern European (read, “Jews”) ‘undesirables’ through the Immigration Act of 1924. Our grandparents were the lucky dreamers. They arrived in the nick of time and we reaped the reward.
That’s why we have a moral obligation to fight for today’s Child Dreamers. We were once strangers in a strange land ourselves. We had Americans who helped us find our way then to a better future. We must be those Americans of an earlier era. We must fight against this immoral, un-American denial of rights to children.
But let’s look even farther back in Jewish tradition for precedents. Traditional Jews who say the Birkat HaMazon (Blessing after Meals) on Shabbat sing Psalm 126 to a lovely melody. In it, the Jews preparing to return to Israel from Babylonian exile (or having just returned) anticipated their joy in seeing the Alt-Neue land:
A Song of Ascent:
When God brought back those who returned to Zion–we were as dreamers.
Then were our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with song.
Then they said among the nations that our God did great things with them.
God did great things with us and we rejoiced.
Transformed our captivity as [flooded] streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joy.
He who goes on his way weeping, carrying his measure of seed
Shall return home in joy, carrying his sheaves [of wheat].
This is the quintessential prayer of the immigrant. It’s equivalent to the dreams of early 20th century Europeans that the streets of America were paved with gold. Of course they weren’t. But that dream is what drove them to America, or in the case of the Jews of ancient Babylon–to the Land of Israel. A dream of prosperity, happiness and security.
As we were once dreamers, so must we protect this new generation of dreamers. We must not permit a Pharaoh like Trump to deny them their right to their own Promised Land.
A word of warning to any who might confuse this Psalm with a justification for latter-day Israel. It is not. It does not say the Israel that these Jews return to should be a racialist, intolerant, hateful society or that it should kill its non-Jewish neighbors with impunity. This is an argument for another day and a different post.