Sometime last year, an NYU colleague of his wife, Sue, invited Bernard Rous of Teaneck to look at the Jewish book collection of another colleague, Dr. Lewis Aron, z”l, who had died in March.
Dr. Aron had been the program director of the university’s postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. His library was extensive and his collection of Jewish books wide-ranging.
“I saw a large collection,” Mr. Rous said. “Dr. Jill Salberg, who was placed in charge of Dr. Aron’s collection, knew I was interested in Judaica and invited me to take what I wanted.”
But “I couldn’t take them all,” he said, joking that he already has a pile of books waiting to be tackled. “I took a handful home, then at some point it occurred to me that maybe we could have a book sale.”
That’s when several paths started to converge.
“I thought maybe we could raise money for the bond fund run by First Friends of New York and New Jersey,” which provides volunteer visitation, post-release support, and advocacy for detained immigrants and asylum seekers, Mr. Rous said. Members of the Tzedek Tirdof committee of Congregation Beth Sholom have received training from that organization, and some now visit people whom ICE has put into one of the state’s jails.
And while the idea of a book sale to provide bond money for undocumented immigrants incarcerated in New Jersey was percolating, “I was encouraged by several people who knew about NYU’s program to work with traumatized kids separated from their parents,” Mr. Rous said. “It seemed there was a link between Tzedek Tirdof’s support for refugees and the special NYU program directed by Dr. Aron, using psychological studies of traumatized kids in conjunction with the pro bono efforts at the NYU Law School to help reunite families.”
In addition, people who had been close to Dr. Aron noted his lifelong commitment to Jewish ethics and social justice, making it even more fitting that the proceeds from his books be used in this way.
The idea for the book sale, and for the use of its proceeds, now was firmly established. The sale — called Books, Bonds, and Bagels — will take place at Beth Sholom on January 26 and will be co-sponsored by CBS’s Tzedek Tirdof and Social Action committees. It will include two guest speakers, Dorothy Wetzel from First Friends and Dr. Spyros Orfanos, acting director of the NYU post-doctoral program in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Book-browsing and the two presentations will be followed by bagels and book-buying. (See box.)
While Mr. Rous has not “officially categorized” the 400 books, he has created a simple index of them, which is online at the admittedly hard-to-type tinyurl.com/wxy5pye.
They fall into four major areas, he said. “I noticed that Dr. Aron was very interested in Jewish mysticism, and the chasidic movement. There are books on kabbalah, the Zohar, and the history and interpretation of mystical thought. There are also classic Jewish texts, Talmud, midrashim and a whole bunch of interesting modern analyses of the traditional texts.”
The collection also included many books by and on Jewish philosophers, including Heschel, Buber, Spinoza, and Maimonides, as well as books on the relationship between psychology and Judaism. The number of books now is close to 500; Dr. Aron’s collection was augmented by a donation of some 100 books from the library of Kenneth Goldrich, z”l, also an avid Jewish scholar (and this writer’s husband).
Mr. Rous said his synagogue’s Tzedek Tirdof committee has identified two key goals for its work this year: gun safety and refugee support. While members of the committee have done training with HIAS, which focuses on refugee advocacy, “we also got a list of concrete actions from First Friends of NJ that we as a congregation could undertake to support actual people.”
In July, the synagogue sponsored a Stamp Out Despair program, where some 60 congregants put together 250 communication packages as part of a distribution to the state’s 2200 detainees so they can communicate with friends, family, and lawyers.
“The main thing HIAS does is advocacy, and they’ve created organizations on the ground” to carry out their program,” Mr. Rous said. Here, it’s the New Jersey Jewish Coalition for Refugees, made up mostly of representatives from congregations but also including interested individuals.
Supported by HIAS and the New Jersey Jewish Coalition for Refugees, members of the CBS Tzedek Tirdof Committee and from Teaneck’s Temple Emeth visited the office of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Dist. 5). Rabbi Sirbu of Emeth made the introductions, explaining “who we are and this is why we believe in welcoming the stranger,” he said. “We met with Gottheimer’s staff for an hour, urging that the congressman use his influence to support or oppose specific upcoming legislation and recent executive orders on immigration.”
“We’re the fifth largest state in terms of detainees,” Mr. Rous said. “Three categories of people are swept up by ICE into New Jersey’s four jails. (One of those jails actually is a privately run detention center, which makes a large profit, he said.) A second facility, the Bergen County jail in Hackensack, also houses ICE detainees; in fact, it is estimated that some 50 percent of the people incarcerated there are ICE detainees.
Mr. Rous detailed the three categories of detainees.
First, there are the people at the southern border who are shipped up to New York. Since New York City has no detainee jails, they send them to jails in New Jersey.
The second group are the so-called DACA kids. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA — is an immigration policy that allows some people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the United States. President Trump declared an end to DACA in 2017, and a Supreme Court decision on the legality of that executive action is expected sometime this year.
Category three is undocumented immigrants, “many of whom have been living here a long time, have jobs, pay taxes, and have children who were born here.”
Mr. Rous explained that asylum seekers are different from refugees and from undocumented immigrants. To be a refugee, with legal status, you don’t come directly to the United States. For example, you may be displaced into a refugee camp in another country. “HIAS works with people in these camps all over the world who want to attain refugee status,” he said. “The vetting process is lengthy and extremely thorough and it can take years.”
“Refugees, in the legal sense of the word, are not asylum seekers or Dreamers or undocumented immigrants,” he continued. “They are people who come to settle in this country who have already been granted the legal status of refugee. There are camps all over the world for people displaced by war, for example —they often are called ‘refugee camps’ — and these displaced people can apply for the legal status of refugee. HIAS is at work all over the world with these people applying to become legal refugees. They are vetted, and if they are granted the legal status of refugee, they then can gain legal entry to be resettled somewhere. So people allowed into the United States as refugees are already legally able to resettle here and are not being locked up.”
Since 1980, the United States has admitted an average of about 85,000 legal refugees every year, he added. “Which is under 3 l/2 million people, less than 2 percent of the population. The picture painted of ‘hordes’ is simply not true.” The number of people admitted in this way is set annually in a presidential directive. The Trump administration has reduced the number from 90,000 per year to 18,000.
Asylum seekers are not covered under the presidential directive, “and the average number who have come in since World War II is much lower than the number of refugees. If you add up all the asylum seekers granted asylum and refugees resettled in the U.S., it’s still less than 2 percent of today’s population. The idea that we’re being overwhelmed in terms of population is ridiculous.
“Most people who apply are rejected,” he continued. Asylum seekers must prove they’re coming to the United States because they fear for their lives, but that fear must be a result of racial, political, or religious persecution. “If you are fleeing domestic abuse or gangs are threatening to kill your family, that’s not being accepted as a valid credible fear today,” Mr. Rous said. The United States is pressuring several Central American countries to accept a treaty holding that asylum seekers first have to seek asylum from that country, he added; the only such treaty the United States has signed up to now has been with Canada.
In these cases, “they don’t have any real asylum systems in place, and no social services,” Mr. Rous said. “The third country must have the capacity to accept them and be non-dangerous. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for asylum seekers. They’re prey.
“It occurred to me that while the Stamp Out Despair and jail visitation programs are definitely needed, there’s a difference between that and the bond fund, which frees the people stuck in jail,” he continued. “And with First Friends bond fund, the money is released when the person appears in immigration court — which 95 percent do — and goes back into the fund to be recycled over and over. If we can raise $5,000, that could fund one bond for one person, and then be ready to help the next person.
“Detainees are not criminals,” Mr. Rous said. “They’re waiting for their day in immigration court. Couldn’t the people who arrest them just give them a paper with a court date instead of throwing them in jail? It’s insane and expensive. Why lock them up when they’re just trying to get them into court?”
Who: Congregation Beth Sholom’s Tzedek Tzirdof and Social Action committees
What: Are sponsoring a book sale, presentations by guest speakers, and light refreshments
When: On Sunday, January 26, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: At the synagogue, 354 Maitland Ave., Teaneck