As A Jewish Mother, Separating Families Hits Especially Hard

by Betsy New-Schneider
Originally Published: 
David McNew / Stringer / Getty

I am Jewish. I am a mother. I am a teacher. I read, watch and listen to what is happening at our southern border and I am undone. I mention I am Jewish because from an early age I was taught about the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s during the holocaust. I was taught that we learn about these horrifying events so that they never happen again. I learned and and I believed, but now I am witnessing children forcibly being separated from their parents and I am grief stricken. Isn’t this what happened in Nazi Germany?

I am a mother; I love my children fiercely and would do anything for them. I have a challenging time leaving my children for a weekend with people I love and trust, much less having them taken from me with no knowledge of their whereabouts.

I am a teacher. I have committed myself for the past 18 years as an elementary school teacher. I believe above everything my job is to create a safe place for children to learn where they are nurtured and loved. My life’s work has been about creating a safe nurturing environment for children, yet I am helpless in helping these thousands of children.

Being a teacher has also introduced me to many children who have entered our country under circumstances I would not be strong enough to persist, yet these ten year olds find a way to thrive and feel fortunate to be here. These children are strong, beautiful, and creative. One student I had the fortune of teaching several years ago wrote about her journey on foot from El Salvador to America without her parents. She wrote:

I was born in El Salvador, I lived with my grandmother, uncles, mom and dad. When I was two years old my dad told my mom he was going to come to America because it was difficult to live in Salvador because there were bad people who killed people for any reason so he wanted to be in a safe place. My dad came to America.When I was two years and a half, my mom followed my dad to America. It would be too dangerous for my parents to bring a baby, so I stayed with my grandmother, great-grandmother, and grandfather.

On November 5, 2012, my mom called me. She asked if I wanted to go to America. I said “yes.” Three days later, my grandmother and I packed all my things into a backpack because I was going to leave my country El SALVADOR. My great-grandmother told me she went to church and prayed that I would make it to America safe, and I was sad because I was leaving everyone that I lived nine years with…I packed but I brought lots of water to drink I started walking and I walked. But I didn’t go inside a car, I only walked…I was walking in a jungle and the other person they were bad with me because they told me I was too small. They took away my boots because they were angry because I didn’t walk where the people told me, because it was all muddy and didn’t know where the holes were, and the holes were deep and my foot got stuck. They took my boot out of the stuck mud and they threw it away and I couldn’t get it because they through it in spiky things.

Later, we walked a little bit we walk into spikes. I didn’t have socks or shoes to walk, then I passed I spikes again and then my foot hurt so much and I said “it hurts a lot.” They tell me to don’t say a word because some people look for the people that came to immigration is finding people that come to America…Later, I passed a farm that had glass, and I was standing on the glass with no shoes. Then some people talk to me how many years I was. I tell them I was 9 years. All they tell me that I was so small to be there and they take to a house so I can sleep in the house like 8 days and then I switch to another house to wait another 5 days they were so nice to talk to me and to play to me them the day came.

Then the person tell me “go get your stuff we are leaving.” Your parents are waiting for you to get where they are. When I saw my mom and dad, I feel like I never see them on the computer and it feel so good to see them. My dad paid the people when he got there, because if he didn’t pay them I wouldn’t be allowed out of the car, I was scared.

When I read this narrative at the time it was written, my heart ached at the ordeal she had been through to get to America. At nine years old, she walked to our country with strangers. She was barefoot, alone and scared. However, she did have a happy ending; her courageous journey brought her to be with her parents with whom she now lives safely.

The families that are being separated from their children are no different than my student. They walked. They were hurt. They were scared. Their journey was worth these difficulties to them because they knew they were bringing their kids to safety. They arrive and their children are stolen from them and they are incarcerated. These babies who are now in “camps” were just as scared, hurt and tired from their journey–only they are now without their parents. They are alone.

I want to help, so I call my representatives. It is not enough. I want to help, so I donate money. It is not enough. I want to help, so I write…it is not enough. I want my children to look back at this dark and ugly time in history and ask me how I helped to stand up to this torture and injustice and I want to be able to tell them what I did to make a difference.

Only, I don’t know how to make a difference. Where are these babies? I know they are in my state…but where? Can I get clearance to read to them, sing to them, cuddle them, brush their hair? Can I get on a list to foster a child? Can I help with administrative duties such as learn their names and their parents names and try to get them back together?

I am Jewish. I am a mother. I am an educator, and I am completely powerless to help these children.

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