Welcoming the Stranger on International Women’s Day
By Violet Kopp & Rachel Landis
Violet & Rachel are fellows in Kol Isha, NFTY-NAR’s NY Teen Feminist Fellowship.
As you read this on International Women’s Day, 65.6 million human beings around the world around the world are homeless, kicked out of their countries due to persecution and war, forced to fend for themselves and rebuild their lives in a land foreign to them. A religion, a society of people’s cities, countries and communities are taken over by men who rise to power violently and quickly, who disregard families lives and safety in a violent and overbearing manner. The civilians cannot leave, cannot get help and escaping is the hardest journey of their lives, many don’t make it. They are on their own.
Sound familiar? This is the story of the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of the temples and today’s global refugee crisis. As American Jewish feminists, we know that the fight for equality for all people will not be complete until we step out of our communities and extend our arms across the globe.
In the past century, many Jews have been lucky to find a safe home in a countries that accept our religion, unlike many who rejected us before. But all over the world, millions of people are being forced to flee their homes due to constant bombardment and terror from opposing and evil groups and governments. In the past decade, the number of forcibly displaced people has grown to 65.6 million, this number growing by 28,300 people every day. That’s like if the entire states of California and New York were taken over and all their residents were scattered around the globe, living in poverty, unsure of where they’ll sleep that next night.
The fearful rhetoric that has infected our country in the past few years paints a different picture than what our country and religion stands for. The repulsion to difference we see today seems familiar because it is; it is the same speech that our relatives were met with when they came to this country, or when they were in Germany.
Protecting the stranger is ingrained in our Jewish values, not only because we were once strangers, but because love your neighbor is the most repeated commandment in the Torah, spreading itself throughout our text 36 times. We are told that we must care for the stranger, because we too were strangers in the land of Egypt.
As refugees live through their own Exodus, there is no better time to practice our values. Across the world’s refugee populations — from Syria, to the Rohingya, to Rwanda, women are abused, their children are tortured, and they are at the mercy of a cruel and unforgiving government, just as we were so many years ago. The last thing the world needs right now are walls. This era of fear and islamophobia seems to be just getting started and we may have some long years before it’s over.
In May of 1939, a ship called the St. Louis left Germany with over 900 passengers, almost all of whom were European Jews fleeing the ever growing Nazi regime. The boat docked in Havana, but Cuba was only able to take a few of its passengers. The rest of the ship, eager not to return to Europe, pleaded with the United States government to issue them visas. With the senate having knocked down a bill to save over 200,000 Jewish refugee children just months earlier, it was no surprise that the government refused to let the passengers disembark. The ship set sail for Europe, and about a quarter of the returned passengers perished in the Shoah.
If we continue to say “Never Again,” we have to mean it. We, as American Jews, have too refuse to let any other group of people suffer the same fate we did. Right now, that’s refugees all over the world. In a time where the US government repeats its harmful actions of the past, we have to stand up so as not to see history repeat itself.
So how can we help? To start, we can donate to and fundraise for organizations that will help get people out of war torn countries and give children and adults the medical attention they need. We can learn more about the conflicts and educate communities. We can write letters to refugee camps in support. Within this country, we can call our elected officials, from federal representatives to local officials. Let’s pressure our city council members to make our neighborhoods a sanctuary, let’s remind our school boards to offer emotional support and English learning classes for recently resettled children.