Opinion: Jews and Latinos, an Alliance Built on Shared Values

October, 18 2013

There is a growing political alliance between Latinos and Jews in America – but it’s not for the reasons some people think.

In recent months, there has been discussion about this coming in the form of new partnerships between organizations and a new Jewish-Latino Congressional caucus. On Wednesday, Moment printed an article examining this trend, which posited that the reason Jewish organizations are reaching out to Latino voters and working with Latino groups on issues like immigration reform is about gaining support for Israel from a growing Hispanic constituency. Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, a national Jewish social justice organization, believes that many American Jews are getting involved in these issues for a different reason.

Bend the Arc focuses only on domestic policy issues and not on issues related to Israel. When we advocate for economic justice, for expanded rights for domestic workers and for immigration reform, we are not working with Latino groups on “Latino” issues so that they will work with us on “Jewish” issues; we are working on American issues that affect all of us. It’s because we have shared values and priorities and we are stronger when we work together to build the kind of America we all want to live in.

Alan van Capelle is CEO of Bend the Arc.

Alan van Capelle is the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

As Jews we believe it is essential to value every person and to ensure that all people are treated with respect and dignity. Naturally, we feel compelled to speak out against a broken immigration system that tears apart families and forces 11 million people to live in hiding. Jews have been there. We know how it feels to be on the outside looking in. Our own difficult history compels us to help lift others out of similar situations.

Bend the Arc’s Rabbi in Residence, Jason Kimelman-Block, was arrested during an act of civil disobedience alongside several members of Congress and DREAMers—young immigrants brought to America as children—at a demonstration for immigration reform on October 8. That night in jail, Jason explained to his cellmates his reasons for being there: “Eleven million people in this country contribute to our economy and strengthen the fabric of our communities, but live without the basic civil rights and protections that the rest of us enjoy. This fundamental injustice cuts against core Jewish values.”

These coalitions have grown because American Jews and Latinos share an understanding that we are in it together. Building a partnership and advancing our work are both the ends and the means.

Working together as part of a broad progressive coalition, we saw two major victories this fall—new federal rules protecting home care workers and the passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. These overdue laws ensure that nationwide, millions of homecare workers are covered by minimum wage and overtime laws; in California, 200,000 domestic workers can count on overtime, basic protections that workers in every other industry take for granted. As active partners in these coalitions, Jewish voters and leaders, side by side with their Latino partners, attended rallies, wrote letters, signed petitions, and met with their representatives delivering the message that advancing rights and protections for these workers—primarily women and people of color—is a priority issue for both the Jewish and Latino communities. 

While many American Jews are now a generation or two removed from their working-class, immigrant roots, through the lens of our own histories we understand that America became a strong and prosperous nation through opportunities afforded to our relatives. The reality is that American Jews now live in a country growing younger and more diverse at the same time that most of the jobs being created are low-wage jobs with few protections. If we want the next generations of Americans to build the same healthy, safe, middle-class communities that many Jews grew up in, we need to make sure that people who work hard can make it, and that families don’t live in fear of being separated from one another for chasing the same dream our grandparents had.

Alan van Capelle is the CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

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