Awakening to Refugees

By Rabbi Jennie Rosenn - Vice President, Community Engagement

I recently came to HIAS having worked for many years in the Jewish community engaging Jews and Jewish communities, institutions, and resources in issues of social and economic justice.  Like many American Jews, perhaps even most, I had not given a lot of thought to the issue of refugees. Yes, I knew that our primary narrative, the story of the Exodus, is a tale of us as refugees fleeing persecution. I was, of course, aware that we as Jews have been refugees over and over again throughout history.  I was even familiar with our Jewish obligation to love the stranger.  But it is only this year that I have come to see clearly that the plight of refugees is one of the largest crises of our time – up there with global poverty, climate change and economic inequality. 

I feel like I have woken up to a reality I did not fully see or hear before. I don’t think one has to work for a refugee organization, however, to wake up to the seriousness of this issue.  In fact, I would like to think that even if I had not come to work here, I would have come to realize the magnitude of this global crisis, perhaps spurred by the millions of Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes or the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have come to our land this summer in search of safety.

We are in the season of awakening. As we approach the High Holidays and reflect on our lives and the world in which we live, we are challenged to see things we have not seen clearly and to hear things we have not heard before. The shofar blasts shake us from our routines and cut through the noise and hubbub of our lives; they call us to connect with that which is most essential.

This year when we listen to the shofar blasts, as the sound reverberates in our ears, let us hear the voices of refugees. We know they are there, millions of people around the world persecuted and unable to live safely in their home countries.  They hover on the periphery of our consciousness as we glance at a photograph, scroll through one more statistic, overhear snippets of the news.  Let the shofar blasts wake us up to the plight of people whose lives are threatened simply for being who they are.

The grounding tekiah blast: Awaken us to the voices of refugees so often drowned out.

The lilting blasts of shevarim: Circle us back to remember the times throughout history when we ourselves were refugees and broken.

The staccato blasts of teruah: Remind us of today’s refugees -- lives upended, families separated and displaced.

The enduring blast of tekiah g’dolah: Sustain us to not abandon them because we are tired, because we are busy, because our world is so full of issues clamoring for our attention.

I hope that you will join me this year in being awakened to the lives and struggles of refugees and in learning what we can do to help them make their lives whole again.

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