An Important Message from the President - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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An Important Message from the President

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., President, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, writes:

President Trump’s Executive Order limiting entry to the U.S. of non-citizens from seven countries, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely, and suspending entry of all refugees for 120 days has sown bitter confusion and upended innocent lives. It is in stark and disheartening contrast to the values of inclusion that we at HUC-JIR embrace and to the normal practices of our nation.

As Jews, the historical resonance of refugees being barred from safe entry to another country is profound and personal. No one can argue with the idea that the security concerns are real, and that there is always a balance between communal safety and humanitarian endeavors. But there can be no doubt that the overly broad boundaries of this Executive Order and its hasty and ill-considered implementation need immediate rectification through more thoughtful vetting processes and more extensive consultation with appropriate federal agencies.

I do not know of HUC-JIR students, faculty, alumni, or employees overseas whose reentry has been barred or delayed, but numerous alumni from our institution who have been working with their communities to welcome refugees and other immigrants have had their progress impeded or entirely blocked. I am proud of what our alumni have been doing to welcome refugees to this country (see this New York Times article) and to protest this Executive Order at airports, across from the Statue of Liberty in lower Manhattan, and in front of the White House itself.

As an institution, we will always serve as a safe place for our students, faculty, and staff, and we will never do anything that would place any member of our community at risk. If you or those about whom you care need support or assistance, please speak with any member of our administration in confidence, and know that we will stand with you and do our best to connect you with people who can help.

Personally, I have joined with thousands of academic leaders worldwide in petitioning President Trump to reconsider his Executive Order. The petition characterizes this order as “discriminatory,” “detrimental to the national interests of the United States,” and imposing an “undue burden on members of our community.” It is available here.

Saving even a single life, the Mishnah states, is tantamount to saving an entire world. May we do all we can in the days ahead to protect the lives of those at serious risk, and continue to build a community in America that is worthy of our democratic roots and our Jewish values.

We have been and will remain a community that honors diverse opinions, national backgrounds and religious approaches, as well as thoughtful ethical responses to events around us. I hope that this challenging moment will provide further opportunities to clarify and enact our values and commitments.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.