There’s hardly anything more poignant than a child snatched away from their parents. It tears at our hearts, it defies our protective instinct. As the verse implies “Like a parent feels for their child, so feel for us, Oh Lord our God”.
In view of this it’s not surprising that the Trump policy (rescinded today) of separating children, including infants from their parents (who were illegally entering the USA) met with such widespread opposition. Not only did many fellow Republicans object but so did the first lady, Melania Trump and reportedly so did Ivanka Kushner.
The OU (Orthodox Union) joined an open letter signed by 26 other USA Jewish organisations opposing the separation of migrant families at the border. The statement of the OU is telling: “As Jews we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”
It’s a powerful and welcome statement for its clear statement of Jewish values in the complex and global debate on refugees: Just this week Hungary passed a constitutional amendment stating that an “alien population” cannot be settled in Hungary. The bill is chillingly called “Stop Soros” law and goes as far as targeting those helping migrants. George Soros was born in Budapest (as Gyorgy Schwartz) and as a 13 year old Jewish child in Nazi occupied Hungary was barred from attending school and made to report to the Judenrat. He survived the war by posing as a Christian. This makes the abuse of his name all the more chilling. Soros today is, or course, a major financial player, controversial and arguably compelling.
While I’m no fan of his (and particularly his views on Israel and his jaundiced perception of anti-Semitism itself), the singling out of this Jewish figure who was himself a victim of racist policies in Hungary is especially ironic.
On the other side of the migration debate there was another ironic twist when Spain opened its doors to African migrants this week after they were turned away by Italy and Malta. It’s an ironic twist when we reflect on Spain’s expulsion of its Jews just over 500 years ago. Perhaps in some way the new government of Spain is doing teshuva for its shameful treatment of its Jews! When one considers how little is left of Spain’s golden Jewish tradition, its shuls and its vibrant dwelling places, there’s still a long way to go (despite some conciliatory efforts in the last few years).
Judaism has always taken pride in its attitude towards the stranger as it has in its treatment of children. As the Talmud (Nedarim) puts it: “Each child brings his own blessings into the world”. It’s a strong moral voice in the global discourse, it has special relevance for Israel’s treatment of its African refugees and resonates for us in Australia. It reminds us of our special responsibility to look out for the children; It’s the Talmud again that puts it bluntly: “A child’s tears move the heavens themselves” (Ibid).
Millions this week were moved by the tears of the children and the human rights of migrants. And in another plus for human rights, the Trump administration got it right in pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council naming its awful and egregious bias record on Israel and mockery of the very human rights its supposed to uphold.
Let’s hope that we will always be mindful of and sensitive to the tears of children and broken hearts of strangers.