I’ve had a song running around in my head for days now. It’s called “City of Immigrants” and it’s written and sung by the talented Steve Earle, a songwriter, musician, recovering heroin addict, record producer, activist and actor (Treme, The Wire). Here is the song’s first verse and chorus:

Livin' in a city of immigrants
I don't need to go travelin'
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin' in a city of immigrants
Livin' in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin' time to a thousand beats
Singin' in languages I don't speak
Livin' in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
City of innocents
City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
City of immigrants

[From the album Washington Square Serenade, 2007]

There is no denying that, with the exception of our Native American brothers and sisters, every single one of us is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants, people who were fleeing the worst kinds of oppression or seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Whether our grandparents arrived in steerage at Ellis Island or our ancestors stepped off the Mayflower, there is no denying that our nation is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Which is precisely why the fear-mongering and anti-immigrant rantings of any of a number of would-be presidential candidates–much of it aimed at Moslems--are so deeply disturbing.

A recent editorial (12-11-15) published in the online edition of The Forward states:

“There have been plenty of denunciations of Islamophobia, and of Trump specifically, and they have come from the left and from the right. That’s a good first step. But the only way to improve—or legitimately try to improve—public discourse is for good people to, publicly and confidently, say what they are for.

Here’s our modest contribution: The United States has always defined itself as a country of immigrants. It has drawn enormous strength from that identity, and that narrative—indeed, it’s been a cornerstone of American exceptionalism from the country’s earliest days. This impulse has afforded us, the children of immigrants, both safety and opportunity: to live freely; to worship openly or, if we choose, not at all; and ultimately to give back to this country in ways that have made it stronger. We must demand that immigrants of all kinds, including Muslims, receive the same opportunity—for them, for us, and for the America we all need. Our identity as a country of refuge has to be constantly renewed, for all of our sakes.”

As Jews our collective memories of victimization, of fear, of crossing borders in order to survive –often without documentation–are too immediate and precious to ignore when we see others demonized with hateful rhetoric and reduced to an “other” deemed unworthy of our concern and support. Ugly, hateful and threatening forces of intolerance are being unleashed in our nation and we would do well to find our voice and articulate freely and often, what we deem to be the American values vital to uphold.