Why Jews Must Stand with Refugees

By Leo Hochberg (Liberal Jew)

Deuteronomy 10:19. “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt”.

In the fourth grade, I heard my first survivor story. My elementary school had taken us on a trip to hear various testimonies from Holocaust survivors. Our guest speaker, while not being a survivor herself, was the daughter of a man who had spent several years in a labor camp. One could say that I was too young to fully grasp the power of such a testimony, and indeed there is some truth to that, but nevertheless it was an introduction to an entirely new world of history that is still unraveling before me today. At a white-clothed table decorated with elegant flowers, surrounded by my young classmates, I learned for the first time what such words as ‘refugee’, ‘state-sponsored terror’, and ‘massacre’ meant. I learned in particular that many victims were somehow connected to me through an institution that I barely understood - known as Judaism - that would later become an essential part of my identity. And I learned that six million descendants of my own ancestors were the victims of a tragedy larger than my own young mind could grasp.

Retrospectively, the parallels I see today as a young college student are striking. Events continue to explode and implode in countries such as Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq, and Yemen. As humanitarian crises spiral wildly out of control, one country after another turns its back on the flood of refugees looking to escape modern Holocausts. And while such a term as ‘modern Holocaust’  might seem heavy - the world has not truly seen atrocities on the scale of the original Holocaust since Stalin’s regime in Russia - many of the same themes that led to the rise of Nazi Germany are conspicuously reemerging. Toxic nationalism, for one, is on the rise. European states are rapidly shutting their doors to those in need - only Germany, the Nordic nations, and Turkey truly have open doors, and most reports suggest that even Germany and Scandinavia will soon temper their refugee acceptance as well. At the same time, far-right movements such as the American Alt-Right (read: Neo-Nazis) have taken root amongst a climate of general religious and racial intolerance. They further the charge for a nation dedicated only to those who already live there - specifically to white nationals. While these movements seem to be a mere extremist fringe, I might add that before Hitler's rise to power most German officials considered the Nazi party to be an unimportant outsider with limited political sway. As history has seen so many times, these dangerous institutions such as extreme nationalism, closed borders, and exclusive anti-refugee populism can bankroll unexpectedly into destruction on a massive international scale. It was these notions that ultimately led to the deaths of six million of my own - normal Jews leading normal lives until their entire way of life was annihilated by extremism.

Today, the identities of some victims have shifted, while others have remained constant since the time of Germany’s Holocaust. Muslims in the West are now the targets of hate crimes carried out by an intolerant public brought closer to the brink of extremism by right-wing propaganda. Just this week, five were killed at a Quebec mosque in an act of internal terrorism. Before that, eleven died in a black Church in Charleston - the shooter, Dylan Roof, had been seen posing with Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist symbols, and claimed that the goal of the shooting was to start a race war. Even the LGBTQIAA+ community is under fire as religious conservatives demand that trans people be denied protections and that non-heterosexual couples be denied marriage and adoption rights.

In the name of these oppressed and marginalized people, the world needs a united Jewish front more than ever. As some of those who were historically most victimized by the raging tides of nationalism, anti-refugee extremism, and fascism, it falls to us to lead the fight against them. It is imperative that we open our hearts to those in need, if for no other reason than because Judaism knows how it feels to cry out and have nobody answer. Just as Anne Frank’s refugee application to the United States was denied, so will thousands of other young children at the hands of state-sponsored and extremist violence.

Now it is time to fight for a new promised land - one that offers asylum to all those pouring out of Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, and other nations fraught with conflict. Who are we, a people who have known oppression for over two millennia, to turn away those on their hands and knees in need of a home? Who are we, a people who can finally walk into the sun after our darkest century, to hoard the proverbial milk and honey that we have wherever we may call ourselves free and safe? The answer is undeniable. This time, we must be the givers. The protectors. Those guardians of the marginalized and fighters for the oppressed. A bastion of acceptance when entire nations are turning theirs back on the greatest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. We, Jews, must stand with refugees. If not, then we have failed all of our ancestors who died in the Holocaust. We are needed now more than ever.

Whether you are Jewish or not, here are some great ways to support refugees in need right now. Take action!

1. Support the American Civil Liberties Union

This is crucial right now. America has just closed its borders to refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, including Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Despite the stunning illegality of the ban, it is still in force right now. The ACLU is fighting as best it can on behalf of refugees that are currently detained and for those who need asylum but come from one of those seven countries.

2. Put up a spare room in your house or donate to Refugees Welcome

This website is dedicated to providing housing to refugees who have recently entered certain European countries. If you live in a country in which this service is available, consider putting up a spare room - the organization that runs the website can even help cover rent. If you can’t provide that service, you can also donate to help cover rent costs. (Only available in certain countries - see website for details).

3. Contribute to Shelterbox

Shelterbox USA is an emergency relief organization dedicated to providing shelter and supplies to families affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Supplies go to those in need in Kurdistan, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.

Here's how author Leo Hochberg suggests you can get involved: Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union

Take Action Now: Civil Liberties, Faith, International Justice