JFREJ Celebrates Immigrant Care Workers!

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This past Shabbat, JFREJ celebrated Mother's Day with a celebration for immigrant care workers!
Scroll down to see wonderful photos below!
Click here for a one-step action for immigration reform!
Click here to read Rabbi Ellen Lippmann's beautiful D'var Torah from the day on the crushing effects of our criminal justice system on families, our broken immigration system and the ways it tears families apart, and the need for immigration reform for all immigrants - including domestic workers! 


Not only did we engage in a powerful action together, we also gathered over 100 signatures urging members of the Judiciary Committee and Gang of 8 to protect the Senate bill from attacks that would weaken it, and to strengthen it by supporting amendments that give women, caregivers, and all families the respect they deserve.

Through lobby visits, postcards from young people in our community, and your support, JFREJ will keep urging Senator Chuck Schumer and others in the Judiciary Committee and Gang of 8 to vote against amendments that exclude the use of sworn affidavits as proof of employment and to support amendments that ensure that pay lost due to labor violations will not be held against an applicant. That way, the legislation will honor the work that women do as caregivers and domestic workers.

Have you lent your voice?

The Senate Judiciary Committee began voting on amendments to the immigration reform bill this week, in preparation to take it to the floor for a vote. Tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that immigration reform must give all moms--including domestic workers--the respect they deserve! Click here to sign the petition.

We were proud to celebrate immigrant care givers this Mother's Day with Kolot Chayeinu-Voices of Our Lives, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Domestic Workers United, the Midtown Workmen's Circle School, and Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association.

Together, we are sending a clear message to our representatives in Washington that our community supports a just and inclusive path to citizenship for the full 11 million undocumented immigrants--including domestic workers and all caregivers!




D’var Torah on BaMidbar 5773/2013
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

Today is my mother’s 14th yarzeit.  Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  To say I am thinking about mothers today would be an understatement.

We all had mothers, whether we knew them or not, or loved them or not, or lived with them or not, or understood them or not.   Some of us are mothers:  we gave birth or adopted or took on the role or see ourselves that way.  Some of us are not mothers:  we chose not to or couldn’t or the time was never right or we didn’t think we could do it without a partner or our partner didn’t want kids or we were just never sure enough.

Thinking about my mother and all the mothers and not mothers, I want us to focus briefly today on several mothers we need to pay attention to and usually don’t.   I do this in the spirit of BaMidbar, our Torah portion for today.  It includes another census of the people as they begin to walk through the wilderness after the stop for the laws of Leviticus.  While we here tend to speak of counting heads, the Torah tells its census takers to “lift the heads” – “s’u et rosh” -  of each person.  Actually, in the Torah it is lifting the heads of every male, head by head.  So we have some correcting to do, adding the women, the mothers, the others.  Amina Rahman of blessed memory reminded us a few years ago that if you lift a head you see a face, you see each person as an individual, you may even look them in the eye.

Imagine with me looking these mothers in the eye as together we lift each head:

The mother in prison:  When a man is arrested, he is usually confident that someone is caring for his children. When a woman is arrested, she does not have this assurance. Because a woman is usually a child's primary care-giver, a mother in prison suffers both the pain of separation and the concern for her children's care. 

We learn from JusticeWorks Community, the late lamented project of this Church of Gethsemane, that  “the burgeoning prison industry complex is the product of our alienation and reflects our capacity to violate human relational bonds. This is nowhere more evident than in the escalating imprisonment of women with dependent children.  [Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis, packet from Justiceworks Community].  If and when we advocate for prison reform, remember:  Prisoners are not all men, some of the women are mothers. 

For the mother in prison, we offer these flowers – take one home later, to remember.

The mother in detention:  From a publication called Colorlines, we learn this terrible story:  Clara’s eldest kid was 6 years old and her youngest just a year old … Josefina’s baby was 9 months. All three children were taken from their mothers and sent to live in foster homes with strangers. Clara and Josefina, sisters in their early 30s who lived together in a small northern New Mexico town, had done nothing to harm their children or to elicit the attention of the child welfare department. Yet one morning last year, their family was shattered when federal immigration authorities detained both sisters. Clara and Josefina were deported four months later. For a year, they had no contact with their children.
This family is one among thousands who’ve been through the same ordeal. In a yearlong investigation, the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. That number represents a conservative estimate of the total…   Many of the kids may never see their parents again.   [Colorlines, published by the Applied Research Center]

I urge us all to add our voices to the call for immigration reform, which is long past due.  When we do, let us all remember the women, mothers, the children without their parents. 
For the mother in detention, we offer these flowers – take one home later, to remember.

The mother who takes care of our children:  I and we at Kolot have been working on the rights of domestic workers for a long time.  I have always thought about these issues – of the workers and the employers – as mothers hiring mothers.  It is not always true.  Sometimes a father hires a nanny, sometimes people without children hire housecleaners, sometimes a domestic worker is not a mother.   But more often than not I am right.   A few years ago I saw the film “Paris j’taime,” which included a short segment in which a young immigrant woman sings a Spanish lullaby ("Qué Linda Manita") to her baby before leaving the baby in daycare. She then takes an extremely long commute to the home of her wealthy employer (whose face is not seen), where she sings the same lullaby to her employer's baby.  Not a word is spoken, but the sorrow was devastating, and I fear mirrors the experience of more nannies right here in Park Slope than we can even imagine.   When we see these women everywhere in the neighborhood, do we even symbolically lift their heads to see their faces and into their eyes?  Do we think “nanny” when we might think “woman” or “mother”? 

We can’t fix all of what is so troubling.  But we who are employers can act to be sure we are treating our employees fairly and with the respect due someone who, like any of us, is made in the image of God. 

For the mother working in our home, we offer these flowers – take one home later, to remember.

The haftarah for BaMidbar, from chapter 2 of Hosea, urges us to treat ourselves and God with respect and care.  If so, Hosea suggests,  “instead of being told “You are not My people,” we shall be called Children of the Living God, bnai El chai.  Then, says Hosea, call your brothers “My People” and your sisters “Lovingly Accepted.”    And God will move from being seen as Baali – a master – to being called Ishi – my husband, maybe, but better – my human-ish God, a God who can, perhaps, help us see the human-ness in every human.

Tony Kushner showed us Thursday night an example of seeing the human-ness, as he stood for over an hour and spoke at length and with interest and connection to each of a long line of people who had come to get him to sign their books or look into his face or, as with one besotted young woman, to get him to touch her tattoo of the angel from Angels in America!  I got to watch his face and theirs, and even though he is a declared agnostic, to me there was something of the “ishi” divine in his encounters.  A lesson in being a mensch. 

As we wander the wilderness of misguided policy and wrongheaded reforms, let us at least set out as a people united in respect and care, seeing each face as its own, lifting each head and each heart in loving acceptance.