We too were strangers

By Robin Rothfield
(originally published in the Jewish News, 30/9/16)
AS we approach the High Holy Days, how should we in the Jewish community respond to Pauline Hanson’s call for an end to Muslim migration?
Yes, a high proportion of Australians support this call but consider that in 1947 an opinion poll indicated that 58 per cent of Australians were opposed to the resettlement of Jewish refugees from Europe.
But, you may argue, Jews did not take part in acts of terror. Really! In 1946, the Jewish terrorist group Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people.
And remember that Muslims are themselves victims of terror and need sanctuary, just as non-Muslims do when under attack.
Consider the Kurdish Muslim woman, Henekal, suffering from hip dysplasia, who fled IS in Syria with her daughter who was suffering from cataracts and going blind. She managed to get to Lebanon where, after months of unsuccessfully trying to find assistance, and distraught that her daughter could lose her sight, she became hysterical.
Luciano Calestini, an Australian working for UNICEF, happened upon her in the street and the end result was that Henekal and her daughter became part of the government’s one-off humanitarian intake of 12,000 refugees.

Ethnic Syrians protesting refugee and asylum seeker rights in Sydney
Australia has resettled only a sixth of its promised 12,000 Syrian refugees. Read more and see original image source here.

We Jews, having suffered so much over the centuries, know how important it is to avoid xenophobia. As Rabbi Ralph Genede, of Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, has pointed out: “One of the most popular laws, mentioned more than any other in the Torah, repeated 36 times, is that you shall not taunt or oppress the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
He goes on to say, “And the asylum seeker/refugee is surely the stranger, the outsider – entitled to that special practical measure that is offered by Jewish law and underpinned by the commandment ‘ve’ahavta l’ray’acha ka’mocha’ – love your neighbour as yourself.”
And Rabbi Genede in his 2014 address to Limmud Oz continues, “Rabbi Berel Wein opines that the greatness of the Jewish people is founded on acts of compassion – Ruth to Naomi; Naomi to Ruth; Boaz to Ruth etc. It’s a little book that’s a pointed reminder of the harmfulness of xenophobia and in many ways about the triumph of the stranger. Ruth overcomes the racial and xenophobic attitudes towards the Moabite woman to become the mother of Israel; the matriarch of royalty.”

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