Two Voices

This week’s Two Voices asks: how should we respond to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean? 

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild says…

2 voices-RabbiSylviaRothschild

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

My grandfather, a Dachau survivor, died stateless and without papers in Switzerland, having been refused leave to remain. Clearly viewed as an unwelcome migrant, he received news just five days before his death that the authorities “were not amenable” to his request to stay.

His story is typical. We Jews have had to flee dangerous conditions and countries. We have a personal reason to care about others in that same situation.

The verse “You shall surely return [it] to him” (Deut. 22:1) is extended in Talmud to mean not just property but life itself: “You may not stand idly by your neighbour’s blood” (Leviticus 19:15) broadens the obligation, even if it costs us financially.

The principle of pikuach nefesh demands our involvement where life is threatened. Our texts and our history come together to address this – we must respond to this crisis by raising our voices and demanding migrants’ safety.

At Pesach, we ritualise a story where the angels are singing as the Egyptian army drowns, leaving the Israelites safe. We diminish our wine reciting the plagues; we sing only half of Hallel recognising God’s rebuke: “The work of my hands is drowning in the sea and you are singing?”

So how should we respond? By demanding that every human life must be valued, every human being given refuge.

Anything else betrays our history.

Sylvia Rothschild is a former rabbi of Wimbledon and District Synagogue

Dr Edie Friedman says…

Dr Edie Friedman

Dr Edie Friedman

The crisis taking place on Europe’s doorstep should concern us all. News that a further 700 people – at least – might have died off the coast of Libya when their boat sank reminds us of our own history, fleeing the pogroms of Russia, the fascism of Nazi Germany and economic hardships caused by persecution and marginalisation.

Those taking to the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean are people first and foremost, a point our political leaders seemed wilfully ignorant of when they refused to support search and rescue operations late last year.

These are refugees, fleeing conflicts in places such as Syria and Somalia or a military dictatorship in Eritrea.

As Jews, with our history as refugees, we should be responding to this crisis with empathy for the people risking their lives, and with anger and concern for our politicians who do nothing.

We should be urging our leaders to commit to search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, to taking active steps to prevent smugglers putting so many people’s lives in danger, and to establishing safe routes for refugees to find sanctuary here.

To date, the UK has resettled only 143 Syrian refugees, a number that is unacceptable when considering nearly four million have now fled the conflict.

Edie Friedman is founder and executive director of JCORE