Aaron and Armando – not two names you typically see together. One Hebrew, one Spanish, these two have been on my mind this week through a remarkable real-life story of one of my colleagues and his community.
R’ Aaron Brusso is the rabbi of Bet Torah, a growing Masorti community in Mt. Kisco, New York. The Westchester community benefits from a great deal of affluence among the local white population, but that same population lives among another, very different one. Westchester, as I discovered when I worked there for a year, is surprisingly diverse. Much like Hertfordshire, it is full of fairly affluent bedroom communities side-by-side more diverse immigrant communities which make up the local infrastructure. They’re, as they always are, slightly less visible- but they’re there.
In the case of Bet Torah, where Aaron is the rabbi, Armando is the synagogue custodian. Armando Rojas has worked for Bet Torah for twenty years, and has been in the United States for thirty, leaving Mexico at 18 to seek out a better life and to escape the violence of local cartels. In those thirty years, Armando has built a career and a family, working hard to provide for himself and in all senses being a model citizen- except for one: Armando never was a citizen. Instead, he was one of over 12 million ‘indocumentados’ – one of the undocumented, who had come over the border without the proper paperwork.
For thirty years that posed no real issue, until one night there was a fight at a restaurant where Armando was eating with his family. He was listed as a witness on police paperwork, and eventually his name was run against an ICE database. Less than a week later ICE picked up Armando, brought him to Tijuana and left him there. They didn’t even notify his family that he had been deported. He’s since, with the help of Bet Torah members, sought asylum status in the States, but under new guidelines from the Attorney General, fear of gang violence is not grounds for sanctuary.
Sadly, this story is not unusual. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deports hundreds of thousands annually, many of whom have committed no crime other than crossing the United States border without the right paperwork. What’s unusual is the incredible role that the Bet Torah community has played in trying to return Armando to his family. R’ Brusso and the community chairs have been to Tijuana to help secure his release and they held, only a few days ago, a hundreds-strong vigil outside the synagogue to pressure the local authorities to reverse Armando’s case.
This week we read about God’s charge to Abraham, that he needs to go out and be a blessing to the people among whom he is being sent. To be a blessing means to stand up for those who are in need of help, and to stand with those who face injustice and oppression. God’s charge to Abraham is also one to us- and our community, wherever it finds itself, has a responsibility to live up to that ancient mission.
For more on Armando’s story, click here.