Introducing Peoplehood Papers 19: “For You Were Strangers in the Land of Egypt” Our Responsibility to Refugees in the 21st Century

[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 19“For You Were Strangers in the Land of Egypt” – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]

By Shlomi Ravid

Peoplehood Papers 19 set out to explore the Jewish responsibility to refugees in the 21st century in the context of Jewish history, legacy and commitment to Torah and Jewish values. We very intentionally explored the issue through the eternal yet very present Jewish lens: “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

We divided the publication into three chapters. In the first we asked: Why should Jews in particular care for refugees? Rabbi Yuval Cherlow from Israel and Rabbi Marc Angel from the United States respond to that question from an ethical-theological perspective. Manny Lindenbaum, an activist with refugees and a Holocaust survivor, offers his perspective with an article titled: “They are Us.” Finally, Mark Hetfield from HIAS discusses the shift from helping refugees because they are Jewish, to helping refugees because we are Jewish.

Our second chapter highlights what Jews around the world are actually doing about the issue. This is not meant as a thorough representation of what is happening on the ground, but rather to provide examples of current Jewish activism in the service of refugees. Rebbeca Singer from World Jewish Relief, a British based organization, reports on their work with Syrian refugees. Rabbi Gesa S. Ederberg from Berlin, shares notes about her congregation’s involvement with Muslim refugees in Germany. Rabbi Jennie Rosenn from HIAS reports on the recent American Jewish mobilization around the refugee cause. Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach and Karen Green share the story and process of Temple Shalom of Chevy Chase, Maryland’s response to the refugee crisis. Amy Weiss from Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay in California, highlights positive responses to the dire situation faced by many refugees. Tamar Lazarus from the Israeli NGO IsraAID reports about their activities throughout Europe and the Middle East. Reut Michaeli, the director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a leading Israeli NGO that has worked over the last 15 years to protect migrant and refugee rights in Israel via legal means and public outreach, bridges between the second chapter and the last. She describes the predicament of refugees’ treatment in Israel, offers a critical account of the government response and proposes concrete steps to improve the situation.

In the concluding chapter, we focused on refugees and challenges in Israel and asked: What should we do differently? Galia Sabar and Noga Malkin offer a critical summary of Israel’s policies towards non-Jewish refugees and an alternative approach of dealing with the refugee challenge. Tomer Persico, basing his article on Jewish sources, finds “the way the State of Israel acts today devastatingly and dishearteningly disappointing” and calls for a different approach towards both African and Syrian refugees. Elliot Vaisrub Glassenberg, an activist with asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv asks: “Why Do Jews Care about Refugees Everywhere – Except in Israel”? He ends his article with a call: “We Jews must use our resources and our global peoplehood to model a global approach to the refugee crisis.” Finally, in the last article, Maayan Ravid and Shlomi Ravid remind us that the question about Jewish commitment to refugees is really about who we are as a people.

The intent of this publication was to initiate a public conversation on Jewish responsibility to refugees and the nature of Peoplehood in the 21st century. We welcome your thoughts and responses to

We want to thank our partners in this publication – HIAS, in particular Rabbi Jennie Rosenn and Mark Hetfield. We are grateful to the contributors of the articles and appreciate their important work. It is a testament that the issue continues to be on the mind of the Jewish people. We hope it will help change the reality on the ground as well.

Dr. Shlomi Ravid is Executive Director of The Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education and Editor of The Peoplehood Papers.