We enter Hanukkah from a place of deep darkness. I write this as the remains of the city of Aleppo are reduced to rubble. The people are trapped inside, with death raining down on them from above. The similarity to the gas chambers of the Shoah is unmistakable.
We have watched as this modern mass murder unfolds. I reluctantly refrain from the word Genocide, as it would ignite a conversation about the word rather than cold look at the harsh reality of the death and destruction that is occurring, where innocent civilians are being systematically destroyed. But the word resonates for me nonetheless. What are the lessons of the Shoah?
We must ask ourselves what is our role in the world. This question is for us as Americans and for us as Jews. It is too late for the remnant of Syria however. The United States provided some support to the political opposition of the Regime and we have provided limited aid to those who have escaped. But we have failed to protect the innocents, permitting the most brutal weapons of mass murder to exterminate. Hundreds of thousands have been killed; the savage death machine indiscriminate, women, children, and aid workers are victims as well as political opponents. The United States’ opportunities to assert itself as a provider of sanctuary either here or there have been squandered. A modern holocaust has occurred as we watched.
What did we learn from the Shoah? Was it merely a particular tragedy to befall the Jewish people? Wasn’t the Shoah also supposed to be a lesson to the world that “Never Again” was a cry to universal humanity? Sadly in the face of the Syrian crisis, we turned away, as the world turned away from the Jewish people in our time of greatest despair. I am overcome by the realization of all that we did not do, of all that I did not do.
Hanukkah is supposed to celebrate the light of freedom and God’s miracles. But they came in that order. The Jews wondrously won the improbable victory, and then the lights of the Menorah miraculously lasted for eight days. The miracle of the oil could only have happened after the people fought to overcome the injustice of the world where they lived. Sadly I think we did not merit God’s miracle this time. Let us use this coming year to commit ourselves to that most basic Jewish value; that we will no longer stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is being shed.
I keep repeating that thought as I hear Americans clamoring to shut the doors to Syrian refugees.It is about fear of terrorists infiltrators I have been told.I am fearful too, but I am fearful that we risk losing our way and our fear for our security are making us xenophobic and racist in ways not seen since the Japanese were interred in American Concentration camps and Jews were returned to Germany for extermination.I am fearful that we risk losing the moral bearings that have been our guiding star.I am fearful that the principles upon which our country was founded are becoming empty words of a time gone by.
We cannot let fear overwhelm us.We claim the words of Emma Lazarus, immortalized at the Statue of Liberty. We welcome the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free.The Syrian refugees certainly fit that description and so did we.We were once considered the refuse of the world, each of us with an ancestor who came here for the chance at a better life. When lives are hanging in the balance, how can we turn our backs?The US has a very robust process in place to screen immigrants and the total number of people who endure this almost two-year procedure is small.We are more than able to absorb these people.We can save their lives.
There is a war underway.And war is a frightening prospect.There are extremists who view us as an enemy to be destroyed.Our defenders have done an amazing job protecting us thus far.There will be attempted attacks on our soil, and some may even be successful.We need to be cautious and alert in defending ourselves. They can hurt us, but they cannot defeat us.Only we can do that.If we turn our backs on our own core principles, these extremists win an important victory.If we no longer believe in what makes us great, then we are great no longer.I fear that more than anything else.
I urge everyone who believes in our nation to write both Congressperson, Senator and Governor and urge them to defeat measures that close us off from helping refugees.Support a robust vetting process that is already in place and support groups like HIAS who are dedicated to helping refugees get started here in America.Then we can still hold our heads up high and ask that God Bless America.
We, the undersigned Jewish organizations, write to express support for refugee resettlement. We urge you to oppose any legislative proposals that aim to halt U.S. resettlement efforts or restrict funding for any groups of refugees, include Syrian refugees.
In 1939, the United States refused to let the S.S. St. Louis dock in our country, sending over 900 Jewish refugees back to Europe, where many died in concentration camps. That moment was a stain on the history of our country — a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion, and antisemitism.
Last week’s devastating attacks in Paris and Beirut are examples of the brutal violence that Syrian refugees are fleeing. We are disheartened to see many U.S. politicians citing these tragic events as a reason to put safe haven further out of reach for refugees. At this critical moment, when there are more refugees and displaced persons than at any time since World War II, we must protect refugees and asylum seekers, not scapegoat them.
The U.S. government has extensive security measures in place to distinguish between those fleeing violence and those seeking to commit it. In fact, refugees are the most thoroughly vetted of all types of immigrants entering the country. Security is an important part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, as it must be, but so is compassion.
In 1939, our country turned away victims of persecution and violence. We implore you to not make that same mistake today.
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AJFCA)
Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)
Habonim D’ror North America
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
National Council of Jewish Women
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism