Jose Palma came to the United States from El Salvador in 1998 at the age of 21. When an earthquake destroyed almost half the country in 2001, he and other Salvadoran citizens who were in the U.S. at the time were granted Temporary Protective Status (TPS). “The reality,” Palma recently told JewishBoston, “is that the Salvadoran community has had TPS for the past 17 years. The Honduran community has had it for the past 20 years, and the Haitian community for 16 years. If TPS is not renewed, the majority of us will become undocumented and be in deportation proceedings.”

Palma will be among the speakers at the New England Anti-Defamation League’s 11th annual “A Nation of Immigrants” seder on March 4. He will tell his story and advocate for changing the law so that he and others will be granted permanent resident status. The father of three U.S. citizens, Palma worries that his children might have to return to a country they’ve only briefly visited. “Their future is at risk,” Palma said. “El Salvador does not have capacity or infrastructure to receive so many people. It’s not a welcoming space.”


ADL New England regional director Robert Trestan told JewishBoston: “Every year the issue around the ‘Nation of Immigrants’ seder becomes more and more relevant. The seder is a real reminder that we need to take care of one another.” In addition to hosting the seder, the ADL will be rolling out a new initiative asking the 46 mayors of Massachusetts to sign on to a joint statement honoring the United States as a nation of immigrants. The ADL is aiming for full participation. “Action needs to happen at the local level,” Trestan said. “It needs to happen one-on-one—on the ground, not in the halls of Congress.” Mayor Marc C. McGovern of Cambridge will be among the attendees and will read the joint statement to seder attendees.

(Courtesy ADL)

Seder attendees will also read from a tailor-made Haggadah for the event, which includes translations of the “Four Questions” in 23 languages that range from Afrikaans to Urdu. The traditional 10 plagues are updated to reflect modern scourges that include xenophobia, religious persecution, homophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley will be the keynote speaker at the seder. “Cardinal O’Malley has been a stalwart supporter of immigrants,” noted Trestan. “He’s always been there for the immigrant community, as have so many mayors and city and town officials across Massachusetts.”

Liza Ryan, an organizing director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), highlighted MIRA’s ongoing participation in the seder as “a continual affirmation of something we all really know—none of us is first nations people. We come from someplace. The strength of our commonwealth is dependent on both the integration and welcoming of the stranger in our state.” She told JewishBoston that the seder’s theme reflects MIRA’s mission to make this country a welcoming place for immigrants. The 31-year-old organization is a coalition of more than 130 organizational members and was founded in response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which allowed 3-5 million undocumented immigrants to become permanent residents.

(Courtesy ADL)

Ryan noted that the work of the coalition has never been more urgent. “Seeing the Jewish community give back what they have received heeds the call to provide a place for the vulnerable,” she said. “In difficult times there is spiritual significance to what we are doing. For me, that is never clearer than through the seder ritual. This is an experience our ancestors had. There are people living the Exodus experience right now.”

Trestan echoed Ryan’s sentiments. “One of the unique things about Passover is that there is a shared story,” he said. “There is a shared recognition of the importance of the journey and the fight for freedom. That is a basic American value that we share.”

Palma, who has been a community organizer for the past seven years, observed: “The Jewish community really resonates with what is going on now. The Passover story is the story of life and all its complications. Unfortunately, my fellow TPS immigrants and I are at the center of what is happening to immigrants in general under this administration.”

(Courtesy ADL)

Find information and tickets for “A Nation of Immigrants” community seder here.