The following testimony was given by JCA member, Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman, at a hearing at the Minnesota Legislature on HF 1500, a bill that would provide a drivers license to any elligible driver, regardless of immigration status.
It is presented below as prepared for delivery.
Good evening Chairperson, Honored Representatives, and all gathered here.
My name is Emma Kippley-Ogman. I am a resident of St. Paul and a rabbi; I work as a chaplain at Macalester College. I am here tonight with Jewish Community Action, speaking in solidarity with immigrants’ rights advocates, community-based groups and collectives, faith-based organizations, workers’ rights advocates and communities across the state working to pass this bill.
In the United States, our most iconic symbol of freedom is a cracked copper bell whose inscription reads: Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof. That Biblical verse, Leviticus 25:10, reads in the ancient Hebrew וקראתם דרור בארץ לכל יושביה. The word דרור/ liberty, is the same word as the name for a sparrow, a bird that can nest wherever it finds a home. Freedom of movement is inherently embedded in that ancient word, דרור, which has become our core American notion of liberty.
In a poignant conversation a decade ago, my grandparents reflected on a dear friend of theirs who was in the early stages of dementia. They worried about his lapses of memory, and what it would mean for his wife to care for him, but for them the most powerful symbol of what this disease took from him was that his doctors said he had to stop driving.
If anyone you love is sixteen years old or seventy-six, you know that in our time and place a license to drive means independence, and driving is deeply enmeshed with our culture of liberated adulthood.
Perhaps someday our public transit systems will be so effective that all of us will turn in our car keys. Until then, driving is an essential aspect of moving through the landscape we have designed for individual cars. It is essential to move between workplaces (or to do the work of driving), to bring children to caregivers and caregivers to children, to bring food home, to participate in civic and communal life, and to joyfully encounter the natural world that nourishes us.
The freedom to drive is not an escape from responsibility. It is in fact the sort of liberty that requires great care and enables drivers to take responsibility for their work, for their loved ones, and in fact for all of our lives.
While we do not (and should not) write American law from Torah, that ancient text offers a values framework relevant to the legislation before this honored body that would expand access to the freedom to drive.
Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.
Honored Representatives, you have a chance to do this here tonight.
Unto all the inhabitants thereof means that our liberations are intertwined.
Unto all the inhabitants thereof means that all of us share responsibility together for our paths forward in this world.
Unto all the inhabitants thereof means drivers licenses for all.