Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, was condemned by his childhood rabbi in a Rosh Hashanah sermon Monday for the hardline immigration policies he championed which led to the separation of parents from their children at the southern border.
“Honestly, Mr Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate people,” Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels said in his address for the Jewish new year. “The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my, or our, Jewish message.”
Comess-Daniels made his comments at the Beth Shir Shalom congregation which Miller attended with his family in 1999-2003. The service was livestreamed on Facebook, and was first reported in the Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.
“This is the season of apology, and to get to an apology, shame over past actions is necessary. Some shout at others when they are self-righteous enough: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself!’ That’s not something I would ever shout or demand,” he said.
Comess-Daniels has spoken out against Miller before, The Guardian reported, but never as directly as he did on Monday.
“I can assure you, as I can assure them,” he said, “that what I taught [Miller] is a Judaism that cherishes, wisdom, values … wide horizons and an even wider embrace … [Separating families] is completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.”
Miller, an immigration hardliner, was instrumental in the administration’s crackdown on immigrants, including last year’s travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority nations and the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border. He was also said to be behind a Trump administration proposal that would make it more difficult for legal immigrants to obtain a green card or become citizens if they have used public welfare programs.
Last month Miller’s maternal uncle, David Glosser, accused his nephew of being an “immigration hypocrite for supporting policies that would have condemned his own Jewish family to death if they had been enacted a century ago.”
Writing in Politico, Glosser described how Miller’s great-great-grandfather Wolf-Leib Glosser fled the Belarusian shtetl of Antopol, arriving in the United States in 1903 “with $8 to his name.”
In that time, “this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens,” wrote Glosser, a longtime volunteer with the Jewish-run refugee agency HIAS.
“I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country,” Glosser said.
“I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses … been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the US just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the ‘America First’ nativists of the day closed US borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.”
Earlier this year, amateur genealogist Jennifer Mendelsohn posted data from the 1910 census showing that Miller’s great-grandmother did not speak English. Her post was retweeted 17,000 times.
JTA contributed to this report.