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Sanctuary Congregation

A Note from Craig Etlin, CSI President

Dear Congregants,

I want to share with you the exciting news that the Sherith Israel Board of Trustees voted at our February meeting to declare Sherith Israel a “sanctuary” congregation. If you’ve been following the Tikkun Olam column in our Sherith Israel News , you’ve been reading about the wonderful work our CSI social action committee has been doing as part of the interfaith sanctuary movement.

Working with allied groups like Faith in Action and Reform CA, members of the social action committee, under the leadership of Stacy Passman and Karen Alschuler, have brought attention to the moral imperative to stop unjust deportations and inhumane detention conditions by helping organize and attending rallies and vigils at City Hall, the Federal Building and ICE headquarters. They have also accompanied family members to ICE detention hearings, undergone rapid response training (training to quickly show up at an ICE raid to take video and be a witness to the actions of ICE) and hosted a citywide training by Faith in Action at CSI.

Being a sanctuary congregation will link us to a local and national network of like-minded groups to form partnerships in action. We will learn from inventive, committed leaders and spotlight new initiatives that match the capabilities and interests of our Sherith Israel community. We will help immigrant families plan ahead for potential crises of arrest and detention, and we will seek effective advocacy for policy change to minimize deportations and respect human rights.

The board’s decision to declare Congregation Sherith Israel to be a sanctuary congregation responds to Rabbi Jessica Graf’s call to embrace Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's vision of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.” This decision honors the stories of our own immigrant ancestors and envisions a Sherith Israel community of energetic, inspired and effective action, providing a platform to every congregant and family member of any age and interest to create positive social change.

Yasher koach to everyone involved for taking on this important work. For further inspiration about these and other social action efforts, and an explanation of why it was important to make a public declaration that Sherith Israel is a sanctuary congregation, and not merely continue the activities the social action committee has undertaken for the past year without making a declaration, I encourage you to listen to Rabbi Graf’s passionate drash, recorded on February 16, the Friday before the board vote (note that the drash begins with remarks related to the tragic shooting in Florida, which occurred earlier that week) .

If you’d like to get more involved or would simply like to be more informed by receiving the social action committee’s email updates, contact Stacy Passman or Karen Alschuler . They’d love to hear from you. And in case you are wondering, being a sanctuary congregation will not include housing any immigrants at our synagogue. 

In other related news, congratulations to Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller on her new job as senior California organizer of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Her new portfolio includes supporting Northern California congregations in their pursuit of social justice and advancing California legislative items and ballot measures that address issues such as immigrant justice, criminal justice reform, housing and homelessness.

For those of you who have young adult and adult children who don’t regularly get emails from Sherith Israel, please share this exciting news with them. Many younger members of the community will welcome the opportunity to engage with this important social action initiative.

Craig Etlin, President

Sat, February 27 2021 15 Adar 5781