These are fairly unprocessed reflections, on a day when I went up to the Federal office building in Manchester, NH, to be part of an interfaith prayer vigil. Today, as on many days, people are being summoned to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to show they have plane tickets to leave the country, or they will be detained. My understanding is that the first family we saw this morning got a reprieve until March. Otherwise today, the parents would have had to leave and their children would have been taken home by someone else. They were in tears when they came out of the building, after a harrowing experience no doubt.
The Torah portion opens: Ki tetze lamilchama al oy'vecha... "When you go out to war on your enemies." Today it strikes me why the Torah uses wording that seems extraneous. Who else would you war against, if not your enemies? What else should you do against your enemies, but go to war? The Torah says -- war and fighting is for enemies, and enemies alone.
But in fact, today we get confused about who our enemies are. Immigration politics for over a century has been about turning groups of people into enemies. That happened to Jews, as in the 1940s during and after World War II, when the arrival of Eastern European Jews was resisted because we were accused of being not refugees but Nazi (!?) or communist infiltrators.
But when people in any group actually adapt to America, contribute not just economically but by becoming part of the community, become grateful patriots of this country -- those people are not our enemies. One person drove by our vigil and a car, a young man in his late 20s, and asked us why we want to commit suicide by bringing in people who want to destroy our faith. He doesn't know that the family in the Federal office building is not our enemy. There is a real issue of law, and people are working to reform our laws and figure out how to enforce existing laws. But we have to distinguish between who is our enemy and who is not.
This week I have been reading a book that I have mentioned almost annually on the High Holy Days the past few years, called Countrymen, by Bo Lidegaard. The book is about the safe escape of the Jews of Denmark during World War II after the Nazi authorities called for their deportations to camp. I'm only about a third of the way through. The part of the story that current grabs me is the specific day when Danes generally and Danish Jews particularly began to process the Nazi charge that Jews were enemies and not Danes.
For both Jews and non-Jewish Danes, there had been through the 1930s and early 1940s no language to even talk about "the Jewish problem", no language of separation even though Jews were Jews and other Danes weren't. It's heartbreaking to see Jews facing this question about themselves, and wondering about what other Danes would think and do under pressure. It's also illuminating, and inspiring, to see how many Danes rose to the occasion, and not just the infrequent "righteous gentile." Something was going on that enabled a whole society to refuse to see Jews as the enemy, despite being told so by propaganda backed by force.
This same society was clear about the difference between citizens and war refugees, or between patriotic citizens and totalitarians, whether Nazi or communist. It's possible to define your enemies, and fight specifically against them.
I know the language of enemies is harsh, but the Torah uses it. It's not a language of hate. Most of what we did this morning was a "Jericho Walk" around the block of the Norris Cotton Federal Building, seven times around the block in silence. This gave me the chance to take in everything -- the families we were there for, the flags of the USA and the state of New Hampshire and what they stand for, the fire station nearby, the ICE agents trying to do their jobs and enforce the law. The people who talked to us with encouragement, or honked horns. The people who laughed and jeered at us casually, who aren't neo-Nazi activists. There is nothing to hate here. There are some battles to fight, and some specific enemies.
May we have the wisdom to know the difference between enemies and not. May we have the courage to fight the right wars.