The Refugees

By Lawrence Bush

THE BOOK OF EXODUS will be floating into the collective Jewish consciousness beginning this Friday, New Year’s Day — the book of “Going Out” (that’s what ‘Exodus’ means in Greek) — which has me trying to find the emotional space to think about what we’re leaving behind in 2015 and where we’re going in 2016.

The Hebrew name for the book is Shemot — Names — because it begins with a recounting of the names of all the “sons of Israel” who fled to Egypt with their households as refugees during famine season: seventy people “of Jacob’s issue,” says the Torah portion, who are “fertile and prolific” and whose offspring are soon popping up everywhere in Egypt.

Which, of course, has me thinking about you-know-who…

ZA'ATARI, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 01: Children pose for a picture as Syrian refugees go about their daily business in the Za'atari refugee camp on February 1, 2013 in Za'atari, Jordan. Record numbers of refugees are fleeing the violence and bombings in Syria to cross the borders to safety in northern Jordan and overwhelming the Za'atari camp. The Jordanian government are appealing for help with the influx of refugees as they struggle to cope with the sheer numbers arriving in the country. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 160600686

… and the children before my time who were not even permitted to be refugees…

childrenoncement_warsaw-02I’m thinking, too, about their collective mother, the Mother of Exiles:

photo-aNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

LET THE KIDS IN, for God’s sake. Stop fruitlessly bombing them over there, and instead spend the money bringing them here. Like Shiphrah and Puah, midwives to life, it is time for us to take risks — there may well be terrorists embedded among those refugees — because war is NOT the answer, war is not our safeguard, war is not our bulwark. War did not stop the Taliban or transform Afghanistan; war did not turn Iraq into a better place; war will not topple ISIS, either. Such changes will take something much harder to achieve than war: fearless love. The kind displayed by Pharaoh’s daughter: “This must be a Hebrew child,” she says, and defies her genocidal father’s will by drawing the baby from the water. And treating him like a prince.

Well, I’ve just talked myself into donating $50 to the International Rescue Committee. I’m sure I’ve paid far, far more in taxes for drone attacks. Just imagine what that $3 or $4 trillion that has been spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have done for immigrant absorption.

 

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.