Agenda has a vigorous program to help promote peace in Central American – another flashpoint, with the Middle East, for international conflict. Because Jews, as a people, know the importance of sanctuary, Agenda has worked hard to promote Jewish involvement in the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees– ’87 brochure
Fact Finding and Solidarity Delegations
Agenda sponsored a 1984 delegation of national Jewish leaders to Nicaragua to examine human rights conditions and investigate U.S. Government allegations of anti-Semitic policies pursued by the Sandanista government. That delegation included Rabbi Marshall T Meyer, who Gerry Serotta describes as a “real hero of the Latin American Jewish community for standing up to the Argentine junta. He was in Argentina for 25 years so he had tremendous credibility.” The delegation came back with a report that the Sandanistas were not engaging in anti-Semitic behavior or policies and in fact that Nicaragua was willing to resume diplomatic talks with Israel and to oppose any forms of anti-Semitism. Through widespread publicity, the 1984 delegation was able to make great strides in discrediting the Reagan administration’s attempts to mobilize the American Jewish community support for the Contras. NJA sent down many more delegations to Central America, and joined with other peace groups for lobbying and speaking against U.S. aid to the Contras, and represented the Jewish community in the Pledge of Resistance coalition and the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America.
As is clear from the above statement in the 1987 brochure, Agenda took special notice of the Sanctuary movement. Formerly, this had been a movement of progressive churches, inspired by the Liberation Theology movement. In winter of 1982, the Milwaukee chapter of NJA was asked to find a prominent Jewish community leader to speak at a vigil supporting local refugees. This led to a local congregation, Emanu-El B’nai Jeshurun, becoming the first synagogue to join the Sanctuary movement — by providing financial and legal resources for a family of El Salvadoran refugees.
In less than a year, over twenty synagogues were active in the sanctuary movement. This was accomplished in part by distributing educational packets on the issues to over 2,000 rabbis and synagogues and by publishing articles and letters to the editor. Agenda also distributed two brochures. One, “Jews and Central America: The Need to Act” offers “political, military, and economic analysis that addresses the situation in the region Israel’s role as a supplier of arms to repressive regimes, and the concerns that have kept progressive Jews from responding to Central American crisis” and the other, “Jews and the Sanctuary movement” offer “historical connection and scriptural commandments that obligate Jews to harbor the persecuted and protect them from harm.”
In 1986, Agenda sponsored national speaking tours by three rabbis whose congregations had offered sanctuary to Central American refugees. Agenda’s “Jewish Witness for Peace” delegation created a 30-minute video called “Crossing Borders” which was distributed within the Jewish community as an educational tool.