Kristallnacht:The Night of Broken Hearts and Broken Glass

Destroyed Ohel Yaaqov Synagogue. באישור בעל האוסף / by permission from the collection owner under CC

“The beast in man had lifted its mask and the time of euphemistic niceties and rationalizations was over.”  Annette Dumbach, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Tonight is the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews “throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians The German authorities looked on without intervening.The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed.” Wikipedia.

Ninety-one Jews were murdered and it is estimated that 30,000 men were separated from their homes and their children and transported to concentration camps.

Kristallnacht was the turning point in Nazi scapegoating and oppressing Jews, moving policy from excluding Jews from political and social engagement to the destruction of property owned by Jews, the murder of Jews, and the importation of Jews to concentration camps.

We would do well to remember. Yesterday it was them. Today it’s someone else. Tomorrow it might be you or me.  No one is safe until everyone is safe.


“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” Martin Niemöeller, Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, The Pastor Who Defied the Nazis, Matthew D. Hockenos.


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman

JEWS, CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS, UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS: San Francisco Peninsula Clergy standing in solidarity for the sacredness of all humans

USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip, public domain
Public domain USGS Satellite photo of the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula protrudes northward. San Francisco is at its tip.

As you might suspect, there was a reason for featuring Emma Lazarus and her poem, The New Colossus, as part of the American She-Poets series this a.m. … the reason being a reminder of our American ideals in the face an unreasonable ban, free-flowing hostilitities, and the fear vulnerable people have given the ramped-up deportation policies finding support and stride under the current Republican administration. Almost all immigrants to this country are refugees even if they are not formally declared so. Formally or informally they seek refuge from violence, poverty, joblessness, hunger and environmental degradation.

“Now ‘refugees’ are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees …. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. . . . ” We Refugees, an essay by Hannah Arendt in the 1943 issue of Menorah

The lack of empathy and compassion for and the fear of and prejudice toward immigrants is not new in American history and, as better people than me have said, unless you are a Native American, you are an immigrant, no matter how far back your roots go in these United States. It is likely that your own progenitors felt the sting of prejudice, might have suffered greatly and even died at its hands.

Here I report on the programs and practices that are being implemented by our interfaith community with the help of a number of organizations including Faith In Action, which is integral to the design of a Rapid Response Program. My hope is that in reading this more people in our own community will become involved and that other communities that don’t have programs and collaborations will be inspired to create them.

The Peninsula Solidarity Network of clergy representing diverse faiths was originally initiated to discuss and address the shortage of housing and affordable rents throughout the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay area and is now taking on another crisis: creating sanctuary and building a Rapid Response Network to witness, accompany and advocate for immigrants facing deportation. On Wednesday, February 8th, it hosted a training by Faith In Action Bay Area. The training was on the Sanctuary Movement and The Rapid Response Network, a project of Faith In Action Bay Area, PICO and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in collaboration with Pangea Legal Services and California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.

Please note: I do not speak for or represent the Peninsula Solidarity Network or its clergy and lay-leader members, Faith In Action or the Rapid Response Network, but  I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in and report back to you. This is what I learned. Any mistakes or mistaken assumptions are my own. If you are clergy or a professional journalist interested in the Peninsula Solidarity Network, the Sanctuary Movement, and/or Rapid Response email J.D.

While deportation is not a new problem, these efforts by the federal government are escalating and Faith In Action is working to bring our congregations together to foster the bigger scale of action and involvement that is necessary now . . . and we need everyone. Our job is to facilitate support among the races. Everyone has a role to play: diverse immigrant communities supporting one another and the greater community showing presence. Vulnerable ethnic and religious groups need special help and American citizens have responsibility to be present for victims and involved in this work.

Within the immigrant community congregations are the center for hope. Faith organizations can offer training to help families to defend themselves, to know their rights, and to get deportation defense through community campaigns, solidarity networks and for advocacy at local, state and federal levels.

Each city needs RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS of at least forty people. First responders verify raids, are moral and legal observers and connect families with legal services, social and economic services, advocacy and accompaniment services.

Victims of immigration raids can’t leave home or work to find sanctuary in a congregation. With rapid response, the congregation goes to the people.

In California, clergy and congregation members can also help by supporting the proposed California Values Act (SB 54) of California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. Here is the short link to info about SB 54:

Donate to Faith In Action Bay Area, 1336 Arroyo Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070-3913 (510) 234-8983

OUR PENINSULA RESIDENTS ARE INVITED TO attend the Faith In Practicing Solidarity During Immigration Raids Training (Rapid Response Network: Witness, Accompany and Advocate) to be offered on February 12, 4 p.m. –  6 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo, CA (Parking on Catalpa). You will learn how to witness (be a legal observer), accompany (provide moral support) and advocate (prepare for opportunity to pass new protections). There will be a second training offered on February 28, 6:30 – 8:30pm, 2266 California St, San Francisco.

For more information on the training call  415 867 6279. REGISTER HERE or RSVP at … Faith In Action Bay Area website is in the development stage.

What follows  is a short film (about 20 min.), which tells the history of immigration in the United States. If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the video.

The following Q & A on the Sanctuary Movement was shared with me by Rev. Ben Meyers (Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo) and was developed by Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon (Congregational Church of San Mateo) with minor adaptions for use here.

  • Why a revival of the Sanctuary Movement?

Too many people are deported – or “returned” – many of them are long-term residents woven into the fabric of our communities and congregations, including our neighbors. Often this results in splitting up families with children who are U.S. citizens.

Time after time Congress has refused to address our broken immigration system. Donald Trump launched his campaign for president pledging to build a wall and deport immigrants. During his first two weeks in office he issued orders intended to begin implementing his vision for America. An order establishing a travel ban on Muslims from seven majority Muslim nations has had a chilling effect on nearly all foreign nationals living among us as friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers or family in communities nationwide. Consequently, a New Sanctuary Movement is rapidly gaining momentum among people of faith and moral conscience.

  • Why get involved as a Faith Community?

Our shared religious ideals call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work together to transform ourselves while creating congruence between our ideals and our actions. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Our congregations can make a difference. We can get involved in the New Sanctuary Movement by taking the National Sanctuary Pledge and becoming a Sanctuary Congregation, joining hundreds of others from all faith traditions across the country

  • What does it mean to be a Sanctuary Congregation?

Principally, it means helping prevent deportation of persons facing an order of deportation, on a case-by-case basis, one at a time, in concert with their legal representation. Participation varies from joining Networks of Protection and Rapid Response teams; Advocating for due process and policies; Accompanying Immigrant families and youth for protection and providing a safe haven.  This latter role means hosting or otherwise supporting a person in your facility and possibly their family too, while the person is engaged in legal proceedings intended to prevent them from being deported. We expect the duration of a person’s stay in Sanctuary would be from three weeks to three months. As part of growing coalitions of congregations you would not be doing this alone.

  • Is a house of worship a safe place?

Historically, churches, schools and hospitals have been classified as “sensitive locations” under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. ICE has not entered any of those venues to take custody of a person facing an order of deportation. However, we should be aware that this could change as the current administration implements its plans. [ICE officials can make entry with a warrant. / J.D.]

  • How are candidates for Sanctuary vetted?

As a Sanctuary Congregation, you will have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with one or more not-for-profit organizations providing legal services for immigrants in or around your area. That organization, in concert with a person’s lawyer, will decide that the person would be the right candidate for Sanctuary: (1) ICE would not likely consider them a priority for deportation; (2) they are a good candidate for prosecutorial discretion, winning a stay of removal or an order of supervision or some other form of legal relief from deportation; and (3) they would satisfy any other requirements specified in our MOU. Where a candidate meets the requirements, the organization presents the case to the Sanctuary Congregations’ rabbi, minister or Iman and a “Vetting Team.”

  • What are the risks?

During the last forty years, no congregation has been prosecuted for allowing undocumented people to find shelter in their Church; no person associated with a Church Sanctuary Program has been convicted for offering Sanctuary; and no Church’s tax-exempt status has been affected. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “There comes a time when a moral man [sic] can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And the important thing is that when he does that he willingly accepts the penalty – because if he refuses to accept the penalty he becomes reckless, and he becomes an anarchist.”


What have we done that people can pick up weapons and kill?

Dan and I as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I. He stands 6'5' and I stand 5'2".
Dan and me as kids and probably the last time he was shorter than I am. He stands 6’5″ and I am 5’2″.

With all its faults – and there are many – Facebook can be a blessing. I haven’t seen my cousin Dan in almost forty years. I lost track of him, but was much delighted to find him again on Facebook last March. 

Dan and I were raised in the United States, but our family was from Lebanon. Our mothers were sisters. Our religious roots are Melchite (our grandfather’s side) and Maronite (our grandmother’s side).

My mother, Zabaida, used to tell me that in Lebanon first cousins were like brothers and sisters. Among other things this was one way she tried to understand what people meant when they talked or wrote about Jesus having brothers. I understood it as my relationship to my cousins, especially cousins Daniel and Christopher, who were brothers (Christopher died prematurely) and my most beloved relatives.  Though we haven’t seen one another in forever and we’ve walked different paths in life,  I suspect our basic values remain the same: peace, love (respect) for others and for life, and appreciation of life’s gifts. Dan has worked in many places around the world, including Algeria and Dubai. Currently he teaches Theology in the Philippines. This essay is Dan’s.


What Have We Done That People Can Pick Up Weapons and Kill?


Fr. Daniel S. Sormani, C.S. Sp.


It was one of those things you think but don’t want to say. In the horror of the carnage in Paris and the world’s reaction, it struck me how very little had been said about the terrorist attack in Beirut the day before…or the attack on a funeral in Baghdad…or so much of the other violence that shakes the world. And I felt like I couldn’t say it for fear of looking like I was somehow diminishing the horror or pain of Paris, afraid it could been seen as a lack of respect and understanding. But I wondered. And now so many people are indeed raising such questions, and others are also reacting to such questions, calling them an appalling lack of sympathy…and things have at times spiraled down to a repulsive debate of numbers and geography, rather than of lives and humanity.

When I was young, it was the last hurrah of Lebanon’s golden era when people still referred to it as the “Switzerland of the East” and the wealthy went there to bask on the beach in the morning and ski on its snow-capped mountains in the afternoon. It was the land of poets and artists, and welcomed refugees and visitors equally.

I remember all the Lebanese women with my mother at fundraisers for the Palestinian refugees. We were all kinds of Christians, Muslims, Druze and even a lone family of Lebanese-Jews who ran a shop in our neighborhood. We were just “us”, the Lebanese diaspora, the children of the Phoenicians. And if you were Syrian or Egyptian, that didn’t matter, then we simply enlarged our self-definition to being Middle Easterners. And if you were anything else, then we were “the melting pot” and loved to learn from you.

But so much interference in the internal workings of the country, so much pushing and shoving, dangling of carrots by different powers and religious groups, and finally civil war exploded in Lebanon. What we had known suddenly disappeared. There were a myriad of political parties I couldn’t keep up with, weekly fundraisers for dozens of necessary causes, a flood of refugees, some legal, some not. It should have brought us together, made us one in the struggle for peace and justice. But it didn’t.

I remember vividly the look of joy on the face of complete strangers if they heard my family speak a bit of Arabic. There would be warm introductions and everyone wanted to know everyone. Suddenly it was different. I would say something in Arabic, and the other person would immediately ask “Muslim?” I remember once in my old neighborhood I went into an Arabic music store and was taken by the album playing. Great music, but the dialect threw me a bit. I cheerfully greeted the young man behind the counter with a wish for a morning filled with goodness. He gave me an annoyed look and pointed to the veiled young woman. When he walked away the woman leaned over and whispered in Arabic, “Don’t mind my brother. It’s clear from the way you greeted him that you’re not Muslim.”

I remember in Algeria when I used the traditional Muslim greeting of peace in the market place and the stall-keeper rudely told me I had no right to say such a thing because he knew I wasn’t Muslim. To my delight, an elderly gentleman in traditional dress got angry and shouted at him, “And what should he do, wish you war and trouble instead?” He went on to greet me with great poetry and many warm blessings. Touched, I kissed him the way one kisses his favorite uncle and a few of the women, all wrapped in the white haiks of western Algeria, applauded and blessed God. This, I thought, is what family is, this is how we will conquer the darkness.

We have become our own worst enemy. Whenever we separate the world into “them” and “us”, whenever we accept blind generalizations and cease to see a unique individual before us, whenever we forget we are all victims of carefully orchestrated deceit and deception for wealth and power, the force of darkness wins. Bullets will never win this struggle, only the heart and mind will.I know political scientists and analysts can tear my thoughts to shreds. I do not claim an intellectual understanding…I am only sharing a broken heart that grieves.

A young Melchite priest once told me a story from his village in Lebanon during the war. There was intense shelling and sniper fire for almost three days. After it stopped, people went out to gather up the dead. An old man went to the church and asked the priest to offer two masses. The priest took his pen and book and asked the man to continue. The first mass, he said, was for his son whom they found shot to death in the orchard by their house. And the second mass was for the person who shot him. Startled, the young priest looked at the old man with amazement. The old man explained the obvious saying “What have we done that people can pick up weapons and kill strangers? What have we done that some poor fellow can kill my son without feeling it? We must pray for him, and ask God’s forgiveness.” When I remember that story, after all these years, I still cry.

© 2015, essay and family photographs, Daniel S. Sormani C.S. Sp., All rights reserved

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