Synagogue Hosts Immigrant-Focused Shabbat with Mayor Kenney

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

The concern of its congregants propelled Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel (BZBI) to host “Sanctuary Shabbat” on May 13 — an event designed to spark a dialogue about the injustices suffered by immigrants.

Mayor Jim Kenney spoke on the subject, as did a panel of members of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an alliance of multiple denominations that campaigns to end injustices against immigrants.

“It just kept coming up,” Rabbi Yosef Goldman said. “We’ve been speaking to the congregation to learn what issues they’re passionate about, and immigration kept coming up.”

After services and a Kiddush, attendants heard Kenney explain Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city — one that limits its involvement in the deportation of undocumented immigrants. The talk comes amid threats from the federal and state governments that mandate cities to comply in undocumented immigrant “round-ups” or face a loss of funding.

President Trump notably signed Executive Order 13780 in March, a controversial measure to temporarily restrict immigration of refugees and nationals from certain Middle Eastern nations, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order faces legal challenges.

In Pennsylvania, the state Senate passed a bill in February designed to defund sanctuary cities. The state House of Representatives introduced a bill in April which would impose economic sanctions on sanctuary cities and require city police to report undocumented immigrants.

Jewish Philadelphians responded to the political actions strongly, and some now participate in the New Sanctuary Movement, which lists Kol Tzedek, Mishkan Shalom and Tikkun Olam Chavurah as member congregations in the area.

Following Kenney’s address, an interfaith panel discussed the movement and its impact on regional churches and synagogues. The organization sponsors community protests, training in the event of an immigration and customs enforcement raid, and campaigns for immigrant rights.

The congregation was receptive, said Goldman, who leads the Social Justice Initiative at BZBI. Though effective, the event was not a one-off foray into social activism, he explained.

“I’ve spoken about social justice and immigration several times from the pulpit. The issues faces immigrants are not new. It’s been difficult for immigrants in Philadelphia for years.”

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