On the Global Jewish Refugee Crisis

We watch in horror as the war in Ukraine continues. The conflict has created an enormous refugee crisis, with more than 3.3 million people fleeing and another 6.5 million displaced within Ukraine.

I am grateful that the United States has now agreed to admit 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. As a community, we will respond with generosity and compassion, much like we did during the resettlement of Afghan refugees following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Our Jewish community’s story is of a people who are perpetual immigrants, from the biblical times of Abraham to the shores of the US. Soon, we will turn towards preparations for Passover, and the injunction “zecher l’etziat mitzrayim” — our core commandment to remember our own exodus from Egypt — looms large. I find myself contemplating the very complicated relationship that America — and every country — has with immigration; welcoming some refugees while denying entry to others.

In recent days, more than 6,000 Jews have moved to Israel from Ukraine, with tens of thousands more expected over the coming months. Concurrently, a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision paved the way for an additional 3,000 Ethiopian olim (immigrants) to arrive in Israel. This is on top of the millions of Jewish immigrants and refugees who have moved to Israel from all over the world over the past 75 years.

Each immigrant will receive housing and other services provided by Federation’s partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Israeli Government, enabling them to acclimate and settle in their new country. While neither immigrant population is free from controversy, Israel’s Aliyah (immigration) and Integration Minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata, recently said, “I will fight for the immigration of Ukrainian Jews alongside the immigration from Ethiopia and from all the Jews in the Diaspora who want to immigrate to Israel.” Her statement reflects a core value in Israel’s establishment: to be a haven to Jews around the world after centuries and centuries of expulsion, persecution, and murder.

Of course, within this context, Israel, alongside all other countries, also struggles with its own immigration policies. What criteria should be used to establish “immigration rights” for members of the Jewish community? What particular responsibility does Israel have to other refugees as a Jewish democratic country? What values does it articulate through its immigration policies?

These are not simple questions. I remain grateful that Israel exists to welcome all Jewish refugees seeking a haven — in poignant contrast to our relatively recent historical past. At the same time, I am focused on the directive I will be recounting around my Passover seder table in a few short weeks: in each and every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as if we personally came out of Egypt. We must remember our own history of immigration from slavery — and in so doing, to see life through the eyes of the immigrant, the asylum seeker, and the refugee, and to support the needs of all refugees fleeing war and seeking a better life.

Thank you for everything that you have done to make this a more caring and compassionate world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Lastly, I invite you to join Federation for a Special Briefing on Ukraine this Tuesday, March 15th at 12:30 PM. JDC CEO, Ariel Zwang, and The Jewish Agency for Israel CEO and Director General, Amira Ahronoviz, will share the latest updates from their organizations’ work. Register here.

As the war continues, our community’s support is providing hope and saving lives. Stay tuned to Federation’s emails and social media for updates, and visit our website for the latest from our partners on the ground — and my own reports from the mission.

Thank you again for all that you do, locally and around the world. I am proud and honored to be part of this caring, compassionate, and generous Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach — may this truly be a Shabbat of peace and a Purim where we will once again triumph over evil and hatred.

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