By Rabbi Zvi Solomons
In the past few weeks we have witnessed a crisis in Europe as huge numbers of refugees seek to cross the sea from Turkey and Libya into Europe. They are indeed refugees from the war in Syria and Libya, as well as others seeking a better place to live.
The prime minister got into trouble when he described them as “a swarm”, but the huge numbers are undeniable.
It is also claimed they are really economic migrants; for example, the countries where they have been encamped – mostly Turkey – have been safe for the Syrians, for some three years. They are not at physical risk there, nor are they out of their cultural milieu, as some suggest they would be in Europe.
Yet they are fleeing, much as our ancestors fled from Eastern Europe or Iberia. There might not be any immediate danger, but life must be hard within a city of tents, with poor sanitation, education and medical facilities. Can we really wonder why people seek to better conditions for themselves and their families, even at some risk? Our own families paid passage for our ancestors, often on uncertain and rather shabby ships, and had no idea what would happen to them once they arrived.
When we look at these strangers, we should not see swarms or inhuman mobs, but human beings doing exactly what we would have done in these circumstances. The threat posed by the radical ISIS group is negligible when compared with what we can do to benefit from these migrants. Many of them are educated and civilised people from a highly secular society, fleeing a savage war that seeks to suck them into medievalism. It is therefore our duty to help them, as Jews.
The Torah tells us repeatedly not to hate an Egyptian because we lived in Egypt.
Similarly we should not hate a Syrian. When we see a stranger, the Torah tells us not to oppress him or her but to reach out and help, as we were strangers ourselves.
Given the nature of these refugees, and the opportunity presented to us, we could all benefit as a country from the influx of so many committed and enterprising individuals.
What about housing them, you may ask? I suspect they will be happy with any roof over their heads. I know of Jewish families sponsoring migrants as a religious duty.
I can conceive of no higher practical expression of Judaism.
Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire, Reading UK. www.jcob.org