In the morning you shall say, “If it were only evening!” and in the evening you shall say, “If it were only morning!” – because of what your heart shall dread and your eyes shall see (Deut. 28: 67)
Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi died 500 meters from the Greek shoreline. His five-year-old brother, Ghalib, died with him, as did his mother, Rehan.
Seven and a half million Syrian children, inside and outside Syria, are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Two million are living as refugees. These days, Syria is one of the most dangerous places in the world if you happen to be a child.
If you saw the pictures of refugees packed into a train in Hungary, desperate and hungry and without a modicum of food or water, or the images of Syrians lying packed side-by-side on the floors of Hungarian prison cells and, if you happen to be Jewish (or just plain human) – you might be finding it a little hard to breathe.
All the images we are seeing now, images we have been seeing for some time, are pictures that are familiar, terrifying.
Some have known that terror.
Alyth Synogogue was founded in London during the 1930s. Many of the first congregants were refugees themselves, fleeing Nazi Germany.
Rabbi Mark Goldsmith is the synagogue’s rabbi. Recently, he published an article in The Guardian entitled: ”In the spirit of the Kindertransport we want to extend a warm welcome to Syria’s refugees.”
The Kindertransport (Children’s Transport) program of 1938 and 1939 saved about 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi gas chambers.
Those children are now elderly. Some went with Rabbi Goldsmith to a meeting at Parliament – together with young Syrian refugees.
One million Jewish children died in the Shoah. There was little to nothing done by the Allies to save them.
But these men and women, among the very few who were saved, are convinced that Great Britain can act on behalf of Syrian families, and help rescue Syrian children.
Here, in America, there are Jewish institutions trying to open our doors to Syrian refugees. One of them is HIAS (once the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society), the oldest voluntary resettlement program in the world. Some of our grandparents were the beneficiaries of the work of HIAS did around the turn of the twentieth century.
On September 4, NPR’s Robert Siegel interviewed HIAS President and CEO Mark J. Hetfield on All Things Considered. “We have 200,000 dead in Syria,” Hetfield said. “We have people fleeing not once, but twice from the conflict.”
But the United States and many countries in Europe, Hetfield added, are assuming a “business as usual” approach to the crisis.
The United States, he pointed out, managed to take in 200,000 human beings during the 1980 Indochina boat crisis with absolutely no infrastructure in place. So far, we’ve offered safety to some 1,800 Syrians.
We might as well be offering Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who openly insists that his country does not want Muslims in his country, a warm handshake and a pat on the back.
If we go on like this, we can certainly expect to see the bodies of more children washed up on Europe’s shorelines.
Or we could do this instead: We could look for each and every opportunity to act and to give.
This High Holy Day season, every dollar we offer HIAS will be matched. We can sign petitions. We can insist that our representatives open the doors to Syrian refugees. We can ask presidential candidates where they stand and we can insist on specific and detailed responses.
This morning, during Torah study at Temple Or Olam, we remarked on the way in which Parshat Ki Tavo depicted the kind of horrors we were seeing in the media. In the text, they are a threat; for Syrians, those horrors are real.
We know what happens in an indifferent world to those no one wants to save.
None of us believe that what we are seeing in this refugee crisis is God’s work. But since God created both weal and woe, humanity has been given the chance to choose: We can make either into reality.
We can act. We can save lives. In the memory of Aylan, Ghalib, and Rehan Kurdi, let us do exactly that.