This past Thursday (June 20) was World Refugee Day. As Jews, welcoming, helping and supporting refugees is perhaps our most important value. The main story-line of the Torah is about how we became slaves in Egypt and escaped. The result: twenty-four verses throughout the Torah commanding us to love the stranger, for we were strangers in Egypt.
We identify with the refugee experience in so many ways. For thousands of years we have lived as minorities in others’ countries – without ANY country to call our own until the establishment of the State of Israel. We were repeatedly expelled from country to country. During and after the holocaust an unspeakable amount of Jews who hadn’t been killed showed up as refugees in other countries – all too often to be denied entry. Even today, anti-Semitic acts happen day after day all over the world, reminding us how so many locals still see us as foreigners who don’t belong in ‘their’ country.
The Torah sees this ongoing experience, at least in part, as a reason for us to increase our compassion towards other strangers and vulnerable individuals. We recognize their experience. When we do experience privilege, we must immediately use that to help others less fortunate. By doing so openly, others can learn from our example.