“There shall be one law for the native-born and the stranger among you.” – Exodus 12:49
Some years ago, I was speaking with a North Carolina “born-and-bred” congregant about a pastoral visit I had made to a family living in West Raleigh.
He raised an eyebrow and pulled me close. “You know, Rabbi, as late as the 1970s, there was a sign in that neighborhood saying: ‘No Jews or dogs allowed.’”
My jaw dropped.
My parents and immigrant grandparents shared with me stories of legalized anti-Semitism in the United States. And, over my years in Raleigh, I had come to learn that certain neighborhoods and social clubs once had ordinances that prohibited Jews from joining.
I wasn’t naive.
But this neighborhood, the one where a half-dozen congregants now lived, was once a home for blatant anti-Semitism?
It floored me.
Sadly, it shouldn’t have.
When I heard that the Supreme Court, albeit on narrow grounds, sided with a Colorado baker’s refusal to serve a gay couple, I shook my head in shame.
In 2018, with all the progress that we have made, LGBTQ Americans are still being targeted by Supreme Court-sanctioned bigotry.
Could you imagine if that Colorado baker had refused to serve a white, male Christian who chose to put a Biblical verse on his wedding cake?
Thousands of years before the Declaration of Human Rights, the Book of Exodus demanded that every person in ancient Israel — both citizen and foreigner alike — be treated equally. For us, today, it may sound like an obvious moral tenet. But in antiquity, when xenophobia was common, the verse served as a rebuttal to all those who wished to discriminate against the stranger.
The terms “native-born” and “stranger” can be understood metaphorically. Any person who is fully at home in a society — that person is the “native.” And any person who experiences legalized discrimination — that person is the “stranger.” It is not necessarily about where one is born; it’s about who holds government-backed power.
For far too long, our country has failed to live up to the Biblical mandate of truly honoring the God-given rights of the stranger, the minority, and the powerless. For the LGBTQ community, in particular, being treated like a stranger has too often been the norm.
As we conclude LGBTQ Pride Month, we should certainly take time to honor the remarkable advances our country has made in regard to expanding and protecting the legal rights of all Americans, including, for example, the right to marry.
We should also see this month as an opportunity to gird ourselves for a fight. Not just on behalf of a gay couple who wished to be served by a small business in Colorado. But also in support of all minority groups who refuse to continue to be treated as strangers in our society.
Dr. King once taught, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In 2018 and beyond, we must help bend that arc until every neighborhood, county and state in the United States of America recognizes the inalienable rights of every person, native-born and stranger.
West Raleigh was once an open home for anti-Semitism. But, not anymore. Colorado and beyond: Open up your Bible and see that change is coming your way as well.
info: Rabbi Eric Solomon is the spiritual leader of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh and serves on the board of Truah: The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights.