Clergy of several faiths have signed a letter spearheaded by a South Orange rabbi sharply criticizing Gov. Chris Christie for insisting that the United States should not admit any Syrian refugees — not even “orphans under age five.”
Christie’s position moved Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El to circulate a letter to the governor saying he and other clergy are “deeply troubled and disappointed by your recent remarks regarding welcoming Syrian refugees into our state.”
As of Monday afternoon, at least 75 rabbis, priests, pastors, and imams had signed the letter, Olitzky told NJ Jewish News. He hopes for many more signatories before Thanksgiving.
“It is not just rabbis and cantors but priests and pastors and imams signing on as well,” Olitzky, a Conservative rabbi, said in a Nov. 23 interview. “This is a unified message in which we say that the actions and statements of the governor don’t represent what we believe our faiths represent.”
Umbrella bodies for the major American-Jewish religious streams have urged the United States to continue to accept Syrian refugees, presenting an almost unanimous front within the organized Jewish community.
By contrast, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to pause the Obama administration’s program, which would admit 10,000 refugees from the more than two million created by Syria’s civil war.
Christie, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, echoed the lawmakers’ opposition, telling an interviewer, “I do not trust this administration to effectively vet the people who are supposed to be coming in in order to protect the safety and security of the American people, so I would not permit them in.”
Rabbi Greg Litcofsky of the Reform Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston was among those signing the letter criticizing the governor.
“I was very disappointed to hear our governor’s response,” said Litcofsky. “We are a country of immigrants and refugees. How can we not think about the Jews who fled Nazi Germany and were turned away from the United States?
“Is there a balance between welcoming refugees and keeping ourselves safe? Absolutely,” he continued. “But it is appalling that my governor would make these blanket statements and lock out the refugees.”
Olitzky invoked the Torah in support of admitting refugees.
“The core of our message for faith is to welcome the stranger,” he said. “The Torah refers to the most vulnerable — the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. The governor singled out children, saying that he would not consider letting a five-year-old orphan into our state.
“My goal is to make it known to the governor that his statements don’t speak for us and our faiths and our communities.”
With reporting by JTA