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
All of us are sickened by the horrible barbaric acts of ISIS and rightly so. Their vision incorporates an intolerant hateful extreme interpretation of Islam, destroying and creating terror wherever they are, in the name of a new triumphant Caliphate.
We have watched helplessly while ISIS destroys Palmyra, an extraordinary archeological remnant. I find this somehow ironic; for Palmyra is nothing more than remnants. The remains of Palmyra are ruins precisely because of a history where the next invader destroyed what preceded. So ISIS continues to do what has done for millennia.
I certainly do not suggest that ISIS is either civilized or legitimate, anything but. However, human beings have a past where we often find a need to conquer and destroy rather than honor and build upon what came before. These ancient ruins are sites of destruction and murder from history. They are tied to cycles of building and prosperity punctuated by war, overthrow and occupation. Possibly there is more we can learn in this moment beyond how to preserve ancient monuments.
Perhaps if we are to truly honor Palmyra, saving the inhabitants of the land should be the priority. ISIS is partly a reaction to a failed nation-state, which we, the “civilized” West, had supported. The developed countries helped to create a festering problem by permitting strongmen to ruthlessly rule because it was in our political interests to do so, rather than create an organic sustainable government whose legitimacy is derived from the people governed. ISIS is attempting to fill a void created when the dictatorship is finally overthrown and there are no institutions or even a history of governance to take its place.
The “civilized” world must accept its responsibility in creating the situation that now exists and therefore engage in nation building to create a place where the native people can live in peace. In the interim, it is our responsibility to provide safe haven for the refugees and victims of war by providing shelter, food and clothing through temporary facilities as well as through immigration. Only when the civilized world does these things can we say we truly honor our past and that humanity is indeed progressing forward.
I have received pushback on my call for Israel to join the humanitarian efforts and take in refugees. I share my response below, to a comment to a post from someone who does not believe as I do. But let me state for the record that this person, with whom I disagree on this and many other subjects regarding Israel, is someone who I know loves Israel very deeply. And it is her love for Israel that compels her to take her stand and be in dialogue with me. I am honored that she thinks enough of me to want to engage in this conversation. Please look to the sidebar to see her comments.
Israel’s moral compass should continue to lead it to be a champion of human values and decency. It is compelled to act as a “light to the nations.” In other words, to be a Jewish homeland is to embrace Jewish Values.
I understand your fear for Israel’s safety. But Israel has the finest security and intelligence capabilities in the world, from the Mossad to the people at the airport. I am fully confident that the Israelis can vet refugees.
And another place where we agree, implementing is not easy. No one realistically would claim otherwise. But I find President Kennedy’s words stirring,
“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard… because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” We do it because we are Jews and that is what Jews do to live the values we cherish.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, L’Shana Tova Tikatevu
Heroes, it is said, act without thinking of the fear before them. Fear can paralyze, placing us in what we classically describe as Mitzrayim, the narrow places. Although most of us are not heroes, most of us are people who respond with empathy and compassion to those in need.
When we rise above our fears we can achieve great things. When we act out of fear, we are reflexive and often myopic and ultimately selfish in our self-protectiveness.
The unfolding tragedies in the Middle East, the hopes of an Arab Spring becoming, to extend the metaphor, the harshest of Winters, have left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. What was once considered home is now an impossible place of hopelessness and despair.
As Americans, as Jews and as human beings we are compelled to answer the immediate desperate cry for help. World governments, first and foremost the United States, must tackle the underlying causes of this devastation work to resolve these problems. But you and I can make a difference to the people in immediate risk for their lives. We can support humanitarian efforts to provide sanctuary, medicine and food and further we can actively support efforts to resettle refugees.
Refugees are carefully screened before granted permission to come to the United States. HIAS is in the forefront of coordinating with government agencies after these people are vetted. Our fear cannot let us turn a blind eye and keep us from engaging in the compassionate work our tradition commands.