The Syrian refugee crisis is a major humanitarian emergency. There are presently over 4 million Syrian refugees (i.e. Syrians who have fled Syria for other countries in the Middle East and Europe), and millions more who are displaced within Syria. These millions of people have risked their lives to escape oppression, war, and catastrophic poverty.
It wasn’t too long ago that Jews who were fleeing Hitler’s Europe, were turned away from Canada and the United States due to fear and suspicion of our ethnicity. At that time, we were regarded as an alien race, unable to assimilate into the Canadian (or American) way of life. This governmental rejection of Jewish immigrants was driven by ignorance, prejudice, and rejection of the ‘other.’ These attitudes are antithetical to what our heritage teaches.
Our heritage should inform the way that we respond to the current migrant crisis. What does the Jewish tradition ask of us regarding those forced from their homes? As Jews, we are charged with the mandate of rectifying wrongs in the world (tikun olam). The Torah obligates us to help those who are vulnerable, even if they might have oppressed us in the past: “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in that land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20).
The Rabbinical Assembly, the spiritual leadership body of Conservative Judaism--the movement with which Beth Jacob is affiliated--has issued a statement reminding Conservative Jews that we must, while protecting our countries’ national security, find a way to welcome Syrian refugees: “We must be mindful not to blame all for the sins of the relative few. We cannot turn our backs on innocent individuals fleeing the violence that is tearing apart their homeland.” (http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/conservative-rabbis-we-must-welcome-syrian-refugees-while-protecting-national-security?tp=25)
To respond is the correct thing to do not only from a moral perspective, but also Jewishly. As HIAS President Mark Hetfield puts it, “We are an agency motivated by Jewish values in order to protect refugees. Meaning, we protect them because we are Jewish, not because they are Jewish” (http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/The-refugee-crisis-A-Jewish-sense-of-responsibility-415738)
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it is easy to bow to ignorance and prejudice, but that would be acting like those who sought to keep Jewish refugees out of Canada and the US. Now is the time for us to be courageous, and act in accordance with our Jewish values.