Rabbi Mona Alfi was busy preparing for evening Shabbat services at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, Calif., when her phone rang.
“It’s not the ideal time to call a rabbi on a Friday afternoon,” she remembers the caller saying. “But we have a situation and we could use your help.”
The situation was that some Latin American migrants had been left outside an office building in downtown Sacramento.
“Help looked like making sure every person had a safe place to stay, making sure they had food to eat and had clean clothing,” says Alfi. “These people had been put on a plane without anything. Not even a change of clothing, a toothbrush — not even knowing where they were going.”
In the following days, the story became clearer: Someone in El Paso had promised jobs and legal help to the group of 20- and 30-somethings if they boarded a plane. But after the migrants arrived in Sacramento, the person who made those promises disappeared. The migrants spoke no English. They were confused. They’d survived long, harrowing journeys and they were scared.
Alfi says the religious imperative for her congregation was clear.
“Our most important holiday is Passover,” she says, “and from that holiday — and over and over in the Bible — we’re taught that because we were strangers in the land of Egypt, we have a special obligation to help the stranger.”
Alfi says that 36 times in the Torah, Jews are commanded to love the stranger, help the stranger, and care for the stranger.
“There should be one law for the stranger and the home-born,” she says.