Welcoming the Stranger, Jew and Non-Jew Alike
By Adam F., Refugee Resettlement Intern
Aug 20, 2014
I have been involved in charity work in my Orthodox Jewish community ever since I can remember. Whether I was helping out intellectually disabled children or sending letters to terror victims in Israel, I’ve always been very passionate about assisting people in need and those experiences left deep impressions on me.
Most of the non-profit organizations I was involved with were affiliated with the Orthodox Jewish community I grew up in. Because of this, sometimes I felt my volunteering only had impact on one demographic: fellow Jews. At times, I wanted to help people in other communities, too.
This summer I found the perfect outlet: interning at HIAS, where the mission to assist refugees of all backgrounds is guided by Jewish values.
My two months as a Refugee Resettlement Intern have taught me a tremendous amount about working in a professional environment and given me direction for the career I want to eventually pursue. Even more importantly, I have found an authentic way to fulfill one of Judaism’s central tenets of faith.
In the Torah, the children of Israel are told thirty-six times to welcome the strangers in their midst, as they are reminded that they themselves “were strangers in the land of Egypt” during centuries of slavery. In Exodus, there are textual reminders to treat strangers kindly. Commenting on this, the great medieval Jewish scholar Nahmanides wrote that after the painful realities endured in Egypt, the Israelites had no excuse not to be completely empathetic to other people in similarly trying circumstances.
HIAS’ work reflects this ethos and impacts the lives of refugees whose stories mirror the Jewish experience. I do not need to look far into my history to find that the stories of millions of refugees around the world today are not that different from those of my family. This is exactly what runs through my mind as I help write grants for HIAS’ partners or analyze outcomes in a client database.
That’s why working here is so religiously fulfilling to me. And it’s why HIAS’ tagline, “Welcome the stranger, protect the refugee” reflects not just the organization’s values, but my Orthodox ones as well.