Elias Rosenfeld is a Dreamer, a Jew and an honors student at Brandeis University who wants the Jewish community to embrace immigration as one of its top issues. Rosenfeld will be a featured speaker at ADL’s 12th Annual “A Nation of Immigrants” Community Seder on Sunday, March 24. “I’m very open and public about my status,” Rosenfeld told JewishBoston in anticipation of his appearance at the seder.

Rosenfeld immigrated to South Florida from Venezuela when he was 6 years old. His family came to the United States on his mother’s managerial visa. Having that particular visa meant she could renew it every three years with the option of eventually applying for a green card. Before she could obtain her green card, though, Rosenfeld’s mother died when he was 12. “Within the legal immigration system there is no mechanism for transferring status when a parent passes away,” Rosenfeld said. “The first time I realized I was undocumented was when I applied for a learner’s permit [to drive] and couldn’t fill out the application because it asked for a Social Security number. I immediately understood that there was something different about me.”

Rosenfeld said he was in limbo until President Obama introduced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as policy in 2012. For the first time, Rosenfeld could obtain a Social Security number, a work permit and the right to apply for internships. Soon after DACA’s implementation, Rosenfeld graduated as valedictorian from his high school and attended Brandeis University on a full scholarship.


However, his dreams for a documented future in the United States “crashed down” around him after the 2016 presidential election. “Revoking DACA has pushed me into a full-time advocacy role,” he said. “I’m active with MIRA Coalition—the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition—and with RAC—the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I’ve met with 98 out of our 100 senators and with 360 out of 435 members of Congress. I’ve done all of this with the specific goal of mobilizing the Jewish community. I’ve also traveled around the country to speak to over 50 congregations. There are over 200 Dreamers from Israel, and plenty more that are Jewish from different countries.”

Passover is a particularly resonant holiday for Rosenfeld. He said the stranger should not only be welcomed but also acknowledged as part of the Jewish community. It says 36 times in the Torah that Jews must welcome the stranger. For Rosenfeld, immigration is central to Jewish identity. “We see how persecution and oppression affects immigration,” he said. “I’m in a unique position when I’m home in South Florida. People who are Trump supporters often invite me for Shabbat dinner. It gives me a very interesting perspective.”

Elias Rosenfeld and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Courtesy photo)
Elias Rosenfeld and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Courtesy photo)

In addition to hearing immigration stories from Rosenfeld and others, the ADL seder will have Rep. Ayanna Pressley as its main speaker. The seder will also include its annual advocacy component. Robert Trestan, executive director of ADL’s New England office in Boston, said this year his organization is asking seder participants to consider three key pieces of legislation.

The first is the Safe Communities Act, which aims to protect the civil rights of all Massachusetts state residents by ensuring that tax dollars are not used to aid the Trump administration to deport immigrant families or create a Muslim registry. This new version of the act guarantees fundamental due process rights for people detained in state and local facilities for civil immigration violations.

The second is the Higher Education Equity Act, which Trestan said will ensure in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants who have graduated from high school in Massachusetts. “We’re giving these undocumented students the same access to a university education at an equal price,” he said.

The third piece of legislation the ADL is requesting people to support is the Genocide Education Act. “We’re making genocide education a priority in all Massachusetts schools,” Trestan said. “We’ve led a statewide coalition to get it passed. Right now, we have 94 co-sponsors in the House and Senate.”

As for the “Nation of Immigrants” Community Seder, Trestan said it’s a “unique event in Boston where people from all over the world gather to share a meal. The focus is always the journey to freedom, whether it was forced or voluntary. The seder fosters a deep appreciation for the United States as a nation of immigrants. However, the challenge always remains that we must continuously fight to guarantee we remain a strong nation of immigrants.”

Find more information about ADL’s 12th Annual “A Nation of Immigrants” Community Seder here.