Eritrean refugees living in Israel take part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in the city of Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, ay 25. 2012. The protesters were calling to take down the dictatorship regime in Eritrea, and to free all the political prisoners. Photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org
The African refugees fleeing for their lives are not our biological brothers or sisters, nor even distant cousins. They are not part of our Jewish family. But they are created in God’s Image, and therefore part of our human family.
Brighton Beach Memories is the award winning and semi-autobiographical novel of the American Jewish playwright Neil Simon. It takes place in 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, and on the eve of the Holocaust. The house is overcrowded, as they have taken in a widowed aunt and her children. Jack (the father) is holding down three jobs to make ends meet, and eventually suffers a heart attack. Tensions between family members abound. In the final scene, the entire family sits around the table to read a letter informing them that their Polish cousins have escaped, and are en route to America. They have no idea how they are going to fit more people into the house, or feed them. But, Jack stops the conversation and makes it clear that there is no question as to whether they will take them in, “They’re family.”
In recent days I have heard some say that they are opposed to violence or incitement against refugees and asylum seekers, but they really must be “humanely” returned to the places they are fleeing from. We are told it is now safe to go back to South Sudan, despite the ongoing war. South Sudanese refugees tell the very different story of those who have died after returning. These statements advocating “humane repatriation” are much better than pogroms, or calling refugees “a cancer,” but they are not acceptable.
We do not need to take in every person coming here for economic reasons. We must find ways of protecting the Israelis living in South Tel Aviv (In “Shavuot Thoughts” I made some concrete suggestions.), and we must find third countries who can take in some of those who make their way to Israel because it is one of the few places they can reach by foot. It is true that we don’t have the money necessary budget or space to absorb all those who would come here if they could, and I even sympathize with those who raise questions how large numbers of refugees might affect our national culture.
The task seems impossible, the challenges seem insurmountable, and I have no idea how we will succeed in doing it. But, there can be no question whether or not to welcome them with open arms. They’re our family!