When a Wandering Aramean is Someone else’s Father

There are so many ways to shut down a conversation about the Syrian refugees. “Syrian savagery is a mess, and there is nothing we can do about it.” “The refuges are violent.” A recognizable American nativism: “The undocumented who are not terrorists will either become criminals or take our jobs.” Or the current favorite bipartisan rhetorical: “Are we the world’s policeman?”

Yes, our own national security is also a moral obligation. Of course, the prospect of unintended consequences looms large. Indeed, geopolitical alliances in the region gain complexity with each passing week.   Yet at stake is nothing less than the integrity and moral accountability of our nation’s history of magnanimity.

Among the nearly 5 million refugees produced across the blood-soaked lands of Syria, the United States has taken in over the past 5 years approximately 2,500 of them. Canada will be accepting 25,000 of them within the coming month alone.

This is not simple. It is highly fraught. It is less about boots on the ground than it is about heads in the sand. If we continue to avert our gaze, then, as Leon Wieseltier and Michael Ignatieff recently wrote, “The ruins of our own integrity will be found amid the ruins of Aleppo.” As they urgently convey, notwithstanding the latest partial cease-fire Press Conference, there is little dignity in being the world’s most powerful bystander with respect to the refugees.

Threats are real, but so is human suffering. Refugee proximity to Paris terror and to obscene spikes in incidents of rape throughout Europe and Scandinavia are undeniable. But more undeniable is the reality that the vast majority of the refugees are not terrorists, they are victims of it.

Israel understands that just because a wandering Aramean (Syria resides on biblical Aram) is someone else’s father, we still have a moral obligation to identify with and care for her or his vulnerable plight. Beyond the well known Field Hospital saving lives on the Golan Heights border, daily humanitarian heroism is demonstrated by IsraAID on the shores of Greek Islands.

Some may retort, “We can’t even decide whether Assad should stay or go. Why not let the world’s most ferocious murderers keep killing themselves?” If this is your best response, if this is the first fruits of your answer to a scope of human suffering that dwarfs Bosnia, then pause to consider your People’s founding story. You may have lost the plot.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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