Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
In the last few weeks, we have seen the ugliness of racism in politics, with campaigners using prejudice and fear to gain what they hope will be votes for themselves,while demeaning our Muslim neighbors and fellow-citizens, and inciting against them; we have seen fear of Syrian refugees and people hoping to protect themselves by closing the gates of this country against them.
We have also seen its opposite, as Americans — including many Jews and Jewish organizations — come together to support and protect Muslim Americans. We have heard the Holocaust invoked — both by Jews, and by non-Jews (I am especially pleased by the latter — it shows how deeply Jews have come to be accepted in this country: our narrative is now an American narrative, and our lesson one for all of us) as a paradigm of what can go wrong when people do not speak up to protect the stranger.
But I want to suggest that for those of us unconvinced by the arguments, untouched by the reassurances, unmoved by the plights of the refugees and the American Muslims affected by the racism being spoken, that perhaps there is another perspective worth examining.
Instead of focusing on the helplessness, or making parallels to what happened to the Jews ( and others), perhaps what we need to do is engage in a little hakarat hatov — recognizing the good, or let’s say, giving props where props are due.
We should welcome Muslims to this country, and support and protect those who are here not only because we would hope that in times of disaster, others would do so for us, but also because having Muslims as neighbors and friends is a positive good. I don’t want to turn this into a list, so I’ll just suggest a quick search, which will turn up hundreds of Muslim-Americans who have enriched us as a nation. I also want to emphasize that there were many Muslims who have, as a tenet of their faith, done as much for us (however you want to parse “us”) including the entire nation of Albania, who, during WWII, uniquely succeeded in saving not only their (smallish) Jewish population from before the war, but also took in additional thousands and saved them, too.
I want to support Syrian refugees not only for their sake, but for my own. I want to protect Muslim freedom of worship, and the safety of American Muslims not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because doing so makes our nation a better nation, and our society a better society. The contributions of immigrants to America is incalculable. The opportunity I have to befriend people unlike myself is in itself a gift, one that I am grateful to America for offering me.
And I know, with perfect faith, that doing so will — already has — made my life better, for which I am profoundly grateful.