Bridging Two Sides of a Troubled Divide

A bridge in Paterson, New Jersey, spans a turbulent river. Behind the bridge is a waterfall. On the right-hand side an American flag flies.

Philanthropists Ray and Vivian Scott Chew see their good work as a higher calling. They founded the Power 2 Inspire Foundation. These are dark times, but there is a ray of light, of hope. The Chews created Be the Light, a “call to action to unite the country in a climate of social, political and environmental unrest.” Why? “As our leaders and communities look for ways to highlight our common bonds instead of our personal differences, we have all been given the charge of looking for ways to “be the light.”

The Be the Light Project is producing an eight-song album, “celebrating the Jewish and Christian faiths coming together as one.” For the first track, released during the time of Pesach and Easter, Cantor Azi Schwartz and Israel Houghton, backed by an interfaith Gospel choir produced a masterful cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic, Bridge over Troubled Water.

It is worth noting that, back in December 2019, Cantor Azi Schwartz and Valerie Simpson sang the same song, again with a lively Gospel choir. Collaborating here, too, were Ray and Vivian Scott Chew.

Everyone, please be safe!

Calling on the President to Welcome the Stranger; End Detention and Expulsion

A children's playground is surrounded by a fence of metal bars. Behind the bars are play structures, one of which bears a smiling face against a blue background.
During a visit to Philadelphia, the irony of a playground surrounded by a gate was not lost on me. Now I think of the child refugees along our southern border who face a very real assault on their human liberty.

An open letter to Joseph R. Biden Jr., President of the United States, and copied to my representatives in Congress:

Dear Mr. President,

You, your presidency, represent hope for America. Yet, there are many people in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala who do not have that. Instead, the situation where they live has been so bad, that they are fleeing the place they called home, saying good-bye to beloved family. They arrived at our southern border, seeking protection. They, too, seek that hope. They are not migrants; they are refugees and asylum seekers. They need your hope. Moreover, they need your action.

In 2020, under the previous administration, the U.S. government used Title 42 of the Code of Federal Regulations as pretext to expel people seeking entry into the U.S. at the Mexico border. Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice Project stated, “The invocation of Title 42 was a thinly-veiled bigoted and xenophobic action that has achieved its goal of cutting off access to asylum for thousands, cloaked in the pretense of protecting public health. This policy has been roundly denounced by public health experts, including CDC scientists, as both unnecessary and ineffective. The continued use of this policy is indefensible.” In fact, continues the SPLC, the action under Title 42 is illegal:

  • It misuses public health authority (from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control) to expel individuals seeking this country’s protection without granting them access to the asylum system.
  • It violates U.S. refugee and anti-trafficking laws, as well as international treaty obligations. Under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
  • It violates the civil and human rights of children and families who asylum by expelling them to face persecution, torture, and other serious danger.

Mr. President, I applaud your many humane and humanitarian efforts to undo injustices the previous administration inflicted at home and abroad. I call on you to be a beacon of decency and hope not only in America, but the world. Yet children still languish along our southern border. During this weekend of Good Friday/Easter and Passover, we are all called on to help the stranger in need. In that spirit, I urge you end the expulsion of refugees and asylum seekers and grant them the shelter they desperately need.

I leave the last word to the great Yo Yo Ma, who last year spread his message of human unity on both sides of the border: