As our weekly Torah readings take us into the book of Exodus and the suffering of the Children of Israel, I can’t help but think about the refugees and migrants from around the world who are trying to reach our country.
I know it’s not the same as the biblical Exodus story. And yet I also know that our tradition reminds us to be kind to the stranger and the widow and the fatherless precisely because we were slaves in Egypt. We as individuals may not know the feeling, but we as a community most definitely do.
Our communal memory holds that image, never ceasing to remind us that at any moment it could be us again. Tragedies happen in the blink of an eye and suddenly people are homeless. Wars break out and innocent families are forced to flee for their lives. And, lest we forget, not too long ago it was Jews fleeing Nazi Germany who were turned away from these shores.
Today, as so often was the case before, people are flocking to our borders, seeking safety and the promise of a better life for themselves and their children. Like the Children of Israel in the desert, they are undertaking arduous, dangerous journeys to a place they have never seen.
My family came to these shores after long voyages across land and sea. They were poor and frightened and didn’t speak the language, yet they were full of hope, much like the families who are traveling here today.
As the new year begins and our nation continues to wrestle with the issue of immigration, I am reminded of the words of Emma Lazarus, engraved on the Statue of Liberty:
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Sadly, the people seeking refuge in our nation today are not being met with open arms. Instead, they are met by walls and barriers, both physical and psychological. They are trying to enter a country that has chosen to turn them away and deny their humanity.
Rabbi David Ingber has called the Statue of Liberty “America’s Mezuzah.” May we be blessed to remember its promise, and treat today’s immigrants as we would like to be treated.