Friday, June 26th, 2009
It’s a refrain I’ve heard regularly over years of covering the Jewish community: why do all those silly liberal Jewish groups keep involving themselves in issues not central to Jewish life, like immigration reform and genocide in Africa? Why don’t they focus instead on specifically Jewish issues, like anti-Semitism and Israel?
In Phoenix recently to help move my mother into assisted living, I got a graphic lesson in how shortsighted that view is.
I spent an interesting hour with a young caregiver who was in the house to help with my stepfather, an Alzheimer’s patient. I quickly learned he was a pre-med student – and that he was a survivor of the Rwanda genocide in 1994.
More than half his family was wiped out, he told me in matter of fact terms; he has vivid memories of hiding from machete-wielding marauders, of streets crowded with dead bodies, of a terror that echoed so many Holocaust tales I’ve heard over the years.
When I told him I worked for a Jewish newspaper, his face lit up.
“The Jews are the only ones talking about genocide in Africa,” he said, exaggerating somewhat. “They’re the only ones talking about Darfur.”
Moreover, when he arrived in his country as a refugee, local Jewish groups were part of a coalition that helped him settle in.
We got onto the subject of Israel, and I was expecting the usual Third World view of Israel as the last colonial power. I was wrong; while he expressed support for Palestinian aspirations, he clearly associated Israel with the Jews he encountered in this country – Jews who have been at the forefront of the effort to prevent future genocides and Jews who took the time to help him, an African immigrant, find his place in pluralistic America.
So much for the “but it’s not a Jewish issue” notion. I’ve never bought it, and thanks to a young man named Eric I’m buying it even less today.