Friday, September 4, 2015

Refugees: A Prayer In The Face of Horror

By Rabbi Joe Black - September 4, 2015

Our God and God of all people:
God of the rich
God of the poor;
God of the wretched
God of the impoverished;
God of the diplomat
God of the refugee;
God of those who have no god.

We are crying, God.
Are You crying too?
We, who see babies washing up on the shores of nations;
We, who see nations washing their hands of the blood of your babies;
We try to fill our eyes, our ears, our mouths our thoughts with distractions – but the familiar cadence of denial no longer brings us relief.

Millions upon millions of terrified men, women and children caught up in the never-ending death machines that feed on hatred, greed and power-lust crowd our consciousness.

Our fences and our borders mean nothing to the terrified.
Theirs is a desperate march towards the unknown.
They throw themselves into a sea of humanity – looking for compassion and hope in the dark recesses of a history
that repeats
and repeats
and repeats…..

They cry out to the tormentors – but nothing stops the blood-lust.
They cry out to You – but get no answer.
They cry out to the wind and their pleas are carried to our doorsteps where they rattle about like dried leaves on a blustery autumn afternoon.

We cannot sweep them away.
We cannot halt their death-dance.
When will we open our arms instead of manufacturing arms?
Where is the hope?
Who has the will to stop the madness?
Why are we silent?

For the sin of indifference;
For the sin of callousness;
For the sin of our inaction;

We beg Your forgiveness.


  1. It is great that people are so compassionate and gushy about people that come to the West not necessarily to work but be fed. Noble sentiments and high-sounding words are great. But the Jewish community should take care of its own. It sadly doesn't. Personally I have a very strong work ethic. I lost my job through changes in the legal field and am flexible towards working in general litigation. Attempts to network through the Jewish community have been fruitless. Networking events and their speakers (even when purportedly on career issues) show cloying attention to donors. People who want to work in exchange for pay get the "bum's rush." Time for us Jews to remember that we are a community. Generosity to others is great but we should be there for each other first. Sorry to rain on parades.

  2. I agree that we need to care for our own - but I also believe that when we see people dying, being raped, starving, enslaved and in abject fear and pverty - we also have an obligation to do something. Your situation sounds very bad - and I'm sorry to hear that you are in need. At the same time - you can at least be thankful that you are not a Syrian refugee. BTW - the State of Israel has given medical care to hundreds of refugees who have fled, in desperation the hospitals on the northern border. I wish you a year of hope, compassion and employment. RJB

  3. I appreciate your prompt response and kind words. The problem is that it is easy to be compassionate for distant people on remote shores while ignoring our own. It is not only in job searching that I have found rabbinical time scare; even when parents were dying, the attention is often fleeting. Such as Rabbis or cantors excusing themselves with "I have to talk to someone" after 30 seconds, and no response, and then observing lengthy (in some cases over 20 minute long) discussions with obviously wealthier congregants. I do pay dues; over $3500 per annum. Yet the "bums rush" is often the best that one receives.

  4. I'm sorry to hear this. I would recommend that you talk to your clergy about this - maybe s/he / they are unaware? Shabbat Shalom.

    1. Thank you for your response. My clergy are a mixed bag. Some are not craning their necks for donors, some are. I am one who well understand that synagogues, despite their beautiful mission, cannot exist on "love and air." That is a quote from someone involved in another major Jewish organization. As a Rabbi you are aware that most congregants shoulder a heavy schedule of dues payments so I feel that we are a cross between donor and "schnorer" (sp), or freeloader. There is a balance and both the clergy and congregants should be sensitive to that fact.

  5. There is the life-saving advice: Do not try to swim against a rip tide; swim cross-wise until out of it, then swim to shore.

    In the wild, animals artificially fed increase in population size according to the food supply, then eventually starve when the food supply decreases. That also happens as the natural food supply fluctuates. Thus the sayings: "Do not feed the animals"; and "One can not save a people from themselves".

    HOWEVER ...

    Maimonides' well-known Ladder of Tzedakah gives us Jews a graduated scale of approaches to assisting others, be they singular or plural in number.

    HOWEVER ...

    What formerly had been a rivulet of migration now is fast becoming a tsunami -- with no end in sight -- that has the probability of obliterating (culturally, financially, even physically) the internal resources (nation, industry, shul) that once could nobly accommodate those in need witihin it, or approaching it and even infiltrating it from beyond its borders.

    On board an airplane, passengers who are accompanied by children are admonished to -- in the event of cabin depressurization -- first don oxygen masks onto themselves, and only afterward onto their children. The general principle is to ensure that one does not attempt to assist another without first having the requisite resources. I'm sure that there is a Torah principle about that, somewhere ....

  6. Here's a Torah principle: " do not oppress the stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger- having yourselves been strangers in theLand of Egypt." The torah commands us to have compassion for the oppressed- no less than 36 times.

    1. I am sure that I, in my almost 73 years, have had compassion for the oppressed at least 36 times. However, during the past (and continuing) 22 years, I have had the resources to immediately and personally assist only one oppressed, essentially homeless, person, as a member of my family -- and as-of July 10, 2015, protecting her as my legal spouse -- plus occasional tzedkah cast thither and yon. But a huge flood of refugees? There are, or soon will be, more refugees than there are Jews!

      My purpose here is not to "toot my own horn", as my mother might have said, but rather to assert that I am not speaking from lack of personal, immediate experience in this subject of discussion.

  7. I acknowledge the response. However, my problem is that it is very tempting to "repair the earth" and not attend to immediate, harder to deal with human needs.