Let’s talk about xenophobia

Between Us

In last week’s Torah portion, we found Joseph at the bottom of a pit before being sold to traders on the way to Egypt. In this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, Joseph is in the midst of a two-year sentence in an Egyptian prison when Pharaoh summons him to interpret his dream of seven thin cows devouring seven fat cows. Interestingly, and for the first time in the parasha, God is mentioned as Joseph responds, “Not I; God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”

Commentators note that it is Joseph’s faith that elevates him above all the other wise men, leading him out of prison and into the position of viceroy of Egypt. As we approach the final days of Chanukah, we recall the role that faith played in the military victory by the Maccabees. It is also interesting to note that both Chanukah and this week’s parasha share the theme of assimilation into foreign cultures. For the Maccabees, Hellenism was a force to be reckoned with, as was Egyptian culture for Joseph. In both cases, Jewish history was changed through, as a result of – and in some ways despite – larger societal pressures.

We continue to struggle with the challenges of refugees, assimilation and continuity. Along with many others on all points of the American political spectrum, as well as numerous political leaders around the world, I strongly condemn the words of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States….” Radical Islam is a real threat to America, to Israel and to the West, and must be dealt with forcefully. But conflating this threat with bigotry against an entire religion is unacceptable, and is neither a Jewish nor an American value. Every Jew in America is descended from immigrants and we understand all too well the painful, deadly results of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in our own country’s history, as well as in Europe.

Joseph was the among the first to be a “stranger in the land of Egypt.” He rose to the highest echelons of the Egyptian political structure, but his descendants then came up against a “king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.” History is not memory. If we forget our past, we are not only condemned to repeat it, we likely will.

As we head into Shabbat and continue to celebrate the holiday of Chanukah – both of which bring light to our world – let us all join together to speak out against the voices of darkness.