Standing up against English Only, Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler of The Temple invokes Yom Kippur and “the opportunity to acknowledge a wrong and to do something about it:”
One of the most beautiful reasons I am proud to make my home here in Nashville was that this is a City of Refuge, a place where immigrants come for safety, freedom from persecution and degradation, and for a chance at a better life. We all know people who have been welcomed by this city, who have been sponsored and cared for by our citizens and our community. Still, despite the fact that research on immigration into Nashville shows immigrants wanting to learn English, wanting to acculturate, wanting to become citizens, fears and stereotypes of foreigners abound.
This fear has enabled and engendered a piece of legislation that flies in the face of who we are as Jews, as Americans, and as citizens of Nashville: the English-Only initiative that is on the special ballot calling for a vote this month.
Do not be fooled by the supporters of this proposed Metro Charter – it is not English First, but English ONLY. English is already the “official and legal language” of Tennessee, a fact established in a resolution passed by the Nashville Metro Council in November of 2006, RS2006-1650. What this new proposed charter amendment would do is further restrict access to aid and assistance for non-English speakers. It would further isolate those trying to become proficient in English. It would remove avenues to air concerns, grievances or obtain necessary information. Further, it shows Nashville to be inhospitable, un-welcoming and un-inclusive to foreign born visitors, residents, companies and workers. With a tourist-driven economy, how embarrassing it is for us to have this amendment paint Nashville as an out-of-touch, backward Southern city to our nation and the world.
This piece of legislation is the “X” we recite in our litany of sins on Yom Kippur – XENOPHOBIA – the fear of others. From year to year, it seems that including xenophobia was just a way to include that difficult letter in our alphabetical list of woes, but now we have the opportunity acknowledge a wrong and to do something about it. Starting January 2, early voting will take place for this special election, with the voting day on January 22. If you are not a resident of Davidson County, you can still participate in stopping this targeted, unsafe, hostile amendment by learning about it and spreading the word, encouraging your friends and family in Davidson County to vote against the proposition. Our Mayor disagrees with this legislation, as does the overwhelming majority of our council members. Now it is up to us.
There is no question that we have a right and an obligation to protect our country, our borders, and our citizens – and by voting against this amendment, we will do just that. We will be protecting our citizens and visitors by opening and furthering communication and understanding. By voting against this amendment, we are voting for our Jewish values of justice, of welcoming the stranger, protecting and loving him as ourselves. This is our obligation. By voting no on this proposition, we are voting to support the 14th Amendment of our US Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection, as well the 1st Amendment and our freedom of speech. Voting “no” is a vote against wasting our tax dollars on this piece of legislation, favoring instead welcoming and supportive measures that would attract others to Nashville boosting our economy. Voting against English Only is a vote against causing undue harm to those on the margins, those in need. It is a vote against bigotry and unfounded fears and hatreds.
This legislation is not just unhelpful; it is detrimental. It has the power to bring us down economically, socially and morally. It denies what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls the Dignity of Difference. He writes, “Our very humanity consists in our difference…The greatness of God’s world is its diversity – and what God asks from us is to respect diversity, make space for it, cherish it, and be enlarged by it.”
May we continue to find the dignity in the differences we find in Nashville. May we use our voices and our votes to dispel the myths and to fight the fear of the other. On January 22, may we secure our city as one of refuge, rights and respect. For more information, please visit www.nashvilleforallofus.org.
Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler
The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom
Kol Shalom, January 2009