World Refugee Day is tomorrow (June 20). In recognition, HIAS has released this video that calls on Jews to remember their history as refugees and to help those still displaced. The video is powerful and compelling.
In particular, I am struck by two connected through lines that position HIAS within a history of Jewish displacement and the contemporary refugee crisis:
(1) The connection between Jewish values and the work of rescuing and resettling refugees around the world today. Their mission is no longer to save Jews, but they are still informed by their roots as a Jewish organization. As they define their goals:
Guided by Jewish values and experience, HIAS is working to address the global refugee crisis.
(2) That the organization chose to tell the history of Jewish displacement as part of a long history of displacement is inspiring. They empower Jews to act today not because Jews are in danger, but because we were once refugees and HIAS was there. In telling this connected history, the video jumps from Nazi concentration camps to the Jewish exile in North Africa to Darfur and Refugee Camps across the world. In each case, HIAS was there:
We were the ones at the docks…and we are still at the docks, in the deserts, and in the cities and camps and lands where people no longer have a home in their homeland.
The argument that Jews should care because it is a Jewish mandate is powerful and speaks beyond World Refugee Day – it speaks to how Jewish values can be part of political concerns that are not just about Israel or just about antisemitism.
This history is at the heart of the Memories/Motifs project and I am proud to be a supporter of HIAS today.
Reposted from Memories/Motifs in honor of World Refugee Day
Yesterday, President Obama used executive action to open the promise of America to 5 million more people. In doing so, he said:
“Whether our forebearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.” via Washington Post
In the postwar period, it was Jews and not Latinos that the fight against immigration tried to bar from entering. And Truman’s executive action, known then as the Truman Directive, opened the doors for 25,000 Displaced Persons, about 2/3 of whom were Jewish survivors, who had not yet been granted permission to legally enter the United States. [For more about the Truman Directive and Jewish immigration in the postwar period, see here (USHMM)]
Reading Obama’s directive, I am reminded not only of the fight Jewish organizations waged to change public perception about who Jewish survivors were and why they needed to come to America, but also about the kind of rhetoric used to make those arguments – and I hear the echoes of that language today. Recalling American history as a site of haven and refuge calls upon the memory of our own family histories and roots an argument for immigration reform in emotion. This kind of personal and national appeal is a powerful way to connect past and present that evokes a moral imperative to act.
Read the rest on the Memories/Motifs blog >