Since Memorial Day weekend we have been reading the stories in newspapers across the country about children being intentionally separated from their families at the U.S. border. Hundreds of children are being detained by U.S. authorities in conditions Senator Jeff Merkley has likened to “dog kennels.” According to NBC News, over 300 of these children have been held for over 72 hours — that is over 3 days. The U.N. has condemned this practice, saying that the “practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”
Perhaps more shocking is the fact that children are being taken away from their parents by design. Chief of Staff John Kelly has been quoted as saying that this policy was adopted as a deterrent to others crossing the border. The purpose is for directly affected families to bring the terror of their experiences home with them — to warn others that their children will be taken from them if they come here. This is not bureaucratic oversight. This is not something haphazard. This is not some unintended consequence that slipped through the cracks. This is a democratic government orchestrating a callous, calculated and intentional policy of separating families and terrorizing children.
Because we are Jews, these stories have special resonance. The thought of being a parent and watching our children taken away to the unknown has a familiar and deeply disturbing place in our own history. Images of SS officers in concentration camps separating children from their parents come readily to mind when reading these stories. To be clear, we are not claiming that our country is committing a genocide, nor do we want to, in any way, trivialize the horrors of the Holocaust. However, for our country to be employing the same barbaric practice as Nazi concentration camps is simply unconscionable.
The Jews who live today are the descendants of those who survived. The separation of families is our grim heritage. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, all sorted away, separated into the unknown, never to be seen by each other again. The modern Jewish ethos is deeply rooted in this trauma, and from an early age we are taught to “never forget.” But never forgetting is meaningless if the memories do not instruct the present. We are presented, today, in our time, with our own government taking children away from their parents for no purpose other than abject terror.
All that remains is a question: What will we do about it?