For You Were Strangers in the Land of Egypt

By: Ashley Solomon  |  May 15, 2019
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By, Ashley Solomon

Today, we as Americans and as Jews live in a complex political climate. As a religion and as a nation, we have many polarized opinions. I believe every person is entitled to his/her own belief system, and think that is part of what makes America and Judaism beautiful in their own rights. However, I find myself disheartened hearing American Jews shouting things such as “build that wall,” various racial slurs, and derogatory comments about other religions and ethnic groups.

We are blessed to be living in the United States, a country which prides itself on freedom. We are privileged to be able to walk down the streets wearing Jewish stars, kippot, and tzitzit. However, the problem with comfortability is that it sometimes leads to complacency. It is a true blessing to be able to live and practice our religion in America freely. However, we forget that only eighty years ago, Jews were not given that same right in these very same United States. In May 1939, over nine hundred Jews fleeing persecution from the Nazi regime were turned away on the Florida coast after being denied entry in Cuba as originally planned. Granted, they did not have visas to enter the United States, but today the Jewish people still remember what it was like to have nowhere to go,  besides back to their own countries that wanted them dead. Yet, when we see people fleeing countries such as Venezuela and El Salvador seeking asylum in the United States, we just hear chants of “build that wall” being shouted even louder. While as mentioned before, I do believe everyone is entitled to their beliefs, I feel it is imperative that we as American Jews do not take for granted being able to live in a safe and free country, and we do not forget that we were on the other side of the border not so long ago.

This week we will read Parshat Kedoshim, the Torah portion that reminds us to act holy and emulate the holiness of our creator. We are told “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” While I am not encouraging anyone to shift their political opinions, I believe we must act with kindness towards strangers in America. We were once strangers in Egypt, and we were strangers in America as well as almost every country in the world. While we are still facing anti-Semitism in the United States today, we are not under any imminent threat or any pressure to flee the country. I believe as Jews we are obligated to stand up for those who are today facing the same threats we once faced. Just as we had wished someone would have stood up for us then, someone needs to stand up for them now. We have become complacent since our immediate lives have not been threatened as they once were, but anti-Semitism always finds a way to trickle back into society. It is happening in small ways, whether through synagogues being vandalized and attacked, Anti-Semitism being veiled as Anti-Zionism, or political cartoons being published in the New York Times, looking far too similar to propaganda we have seen leading up to the secondorld War.

As we learn in this Parsha and throughout the book of Vayikra, we are to be an example for all the nations. If we do not stand up for what is right, no one else will. We have seen this happen throughout history, and unfortunately this pattern is repeating itself today. Martin Niemöller, who witnessed one of the darkest moments in human history during World War II, wrote the famous poem, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.” We are a nation few in numbers, yet powerful in spirit. While we share a different belief and value system from the rest of the world, we understand better than anyone what it means to face persecution and injustice. That is why it is our duty to stand up for those facing injustices; because if we do not, no one else will.

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