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January 15, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Refugees need our compassion

By Rabbi Lyn Goldstein Congregation B’nai Emmunah

This month, we begin reading Exodus. Central to the Biblical story are the 10 Plagues. Through each of the first five plagues, the Torah recounts Pharaoh hardening his heart, refusing to let the Jews go, turning away from the pain of his own people, focusing only on his own desires. During the sixth plague, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh was growing immune to the suffering surrounding him. During the seventh plague, Pharaoh hardened his own heart, choosing not to care about the effects of his actions on the Egyptians. During the final plagues, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh lost the ability to feel. He had turned away from the suffering of others for so long he was incapable of feeling their pain.

Torah teaches us that when we refuse to see pain and suffering in others, we, ourselves, run the risk of becoming Pharaoh, of losing our humanity. Today, we are in danger of hardening our hearts as Pharaoh did. With 12 million Syrians displaced, bombs dropping, homes destroyed, friends and family members murdered, and severe shortages of food and water, over half a million men, women and children have risked their lives fleeing their homes to try to escape the horrors of Syria. Thousands have died, 4.1 million Syrian refugees are living abroad and 6 million are displaced inside Syria. More than 310,000 have been killed. Half the Syrian population has been forced to leave their homes. (CNN. com)

As Jews, we remember the ships filled with Jews trying to escape Nazi horrors and Jews trying to obtain visas to escape the terror, turned away by country after country, because they didn’t like or want Jews. Most were murdered.

Are we, as a nation, hardening our hearts? Are we are turning away, refusing “to allow our emotions to get the best of our judgment.” allowing fear to close our eyes to massive suffering and heartbreak?

Our Judaism demands more of us. We read (Lev 19:16): Don’t stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds. We are to jump in, to help, trying our best to bring relief. Pikuach nefesh, saving a life, takes precedence over all other mitzvot. What are we doing to save the lives of innocent Syrians? How are we helping the refugees? Each year in our High Holy Day prayers, we ask “Who shall die by fire, and who by water?” Will we be able to recite those words next fall knowing that we did everything we could to prevent unnecessary deaths? When, this Passover, we read that our ancestors were wondering Arameans, strangers in a strange land, will we be able to say that because we Jews were forced to wander for 5,000 years, we understand and we are taking action so others won’t have to suffer the same fate. We will not stand by and watch our neighbors bleed.

Jandari fled Syria two years ago with his family, including five children. He said: “I hope Americans will be kind enough to feel for us, to feel our suffering … Will you penalize all the Syrians? If one student was bad, would you kick all the students out of school? They should not penalize the whole innocent population because somebody did something wrong.” (LA Times, 1-5-16)

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism wrote to President Obama: “Our great nation must respond immediately by providing safety, food, shelter, refuge, and dignity. How can a nation built by refugees from political persecution turn our back on refugees fleeing religious and political persecution? It cannot.” We are opening our doors to 10,000 refugees for 2016. It’s a start.

Canada is bringing in 25,000 refugees in just January and February. Prime Minister Trudeau welcomed the first Syrian refugees with the words: “You are home. Welcome home.”

Most synagogues in Canada are preparing to welcome Syrian refugees into their midst. In the U.S., the government provides refugee support. In Canada, citizens can sponsor refugees for $40,000 per family of 4; providing housing, clothing, supplies, assisting them to find work, etc.

Raising money to help fund the families the Canadian Jewish community is supporting is crucial explained Rabbi Moscovitz, lead rabbi in the Canadian Jewish community’s efforts to help the refugees. The Jewish Immigration Aid Society (JIAS), a national Canadian Jewish organization representing synagogue denominations and Jewish organizations, is sponsoring 25 families and needs to raise at least one million dollars. Contact to help.

Donations can be made in the U.S. Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) rescues, protects and helps refugees build new lives here. Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief’s dedicated fund supports Syrian refugees. IsraAid, helps people worldwide survive crises and move towards sustainable living. International Rescue Committee assists those whose lives are destroyed by conflict to survive, and ultimately thrive.

May 2016 be one of softening our hearts, reaching out, recognizing the suffering, pain and need the refugees are experiencing, and doing something to help. May we be blessed to be God’s hands on earth doing the sacred work of tikkun olam, fixing the brokenness in our world.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the

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